Nevada agrees to Superfund priority status for Anaconda copper mine

March 30, 2016

With its efforts to find a state solution failing, Nevada has “cautiously” agreed to allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to include the abandoned Anaconda copper mine near the town of Yerington on its priority list of contaminated sites.

Gov. Brian Sandoval announced the decision in a letter to the EPA, allowing the agency to include the Anaconda copper mine to the National Priority List of contaminated sites without opposition from the state, The Reno Gazette-Journal reported. 

“Despite our best efforts, the state and local stakeholders have been unable at this time to secure an agreement for a public-privately funded solution that meets the permanent remedy requirement,” Sandoval said. “Therefore, the State will reluctantly concur with initiating the NPL listing process.”

The agreement, however, was contingent on several assurances that Nevada is requiring from the EPA. These include ensuring an alternative remedy if the EPA is unable to secure federal funding for the site as well as a solid timetable for the work that must be done. The state also wants the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection to take the lead on the project given its expertise in mine reclamation projects. NDEP is specifically looking at the Arimetco portion of the site, which is not covered by the work being paid for by former Anaconda site owner Atlantic Richfield Co.

The site already received “Superfund” designation from the EPA, which indicates sites that have been contaminated with hazardous chemicals and pollutants. Unless the site is also added to the EPA’s National Priority List, however, the agency will not be able to spend Superfund money on it for long-term cleanup.

In 2005, Nevada requested that the EPA use its Superfund authority on the abandoned copper pit. The state, however, resisted efforts to place the site on the Superfund National Priority List, with opponents citing the potential economic impact and negative attention it would bring to the region. Instead, those against the listing wanted to come up with an alternative public-private option for funding the cleanup.

Of special concern to the agriculture community is the potential for customers associating the area's inclusion into the NPL with tainted produce. This was a key concern expressed by community members to the state and EPA during public discussions and is one of the assurances that Nevada is asking from the EPA as well regarding any communication about the Superfund site.

Sandoval said that being placed on the NPL does not guarantee funding. Sandoval added that the program has not been fully funded since 1995. This was a driving force in the state’s request for assurances should the EPA be unable to secure the requisite funding for the project. With the NPL inclusion, federal funds will cover 90 percent of the estimated $30 million cost of cleanup, with Nevada making up the remainder.

Initially opened in 1918 as the Empire Nevada Mine, the abandoned site comprises 3,400 acres in the Mason Valley about 65 miles southeast of Reno. Anaconda Copper Company acquired the site in 1941, producing 1.7 billion pounds of copper from 1952 to 1978. The site was sold to Arimetco, Inc., in 1988, according to the EPA. The company, however, went bankrupt and abandoned the location in 2000.

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