Lake County Record Bee article, 10/28/2005 - by Elizabeth Larson - Record-Bee staff

Sulphur Bank cleanup to begin

CLEARLAKE OAKS -- It's been 15 years since the federal government placed the Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine on a list of contaminated sites requiring cleanup. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency finally announced its plans to begin removing the hazardous materials that are the legacy of almost a century of mercury mining at the site.

Community activist Chuck Lamb made the announcement at Wednesday night's Clearlake Oaks Community Update Meeting at the Clearlake Oaks Moose Lodge. About 130 people were there to hear about the latest activities and accomplishments in improving the Oaks area.

In 1990, the mine located on the Oaks Arm of Clear Lake was added to the Superfund sites list, which includes thousands of EPA-monitored areas that have been contaminated by hazardous materials and require cleanup because of potential risk to human and environmental health.

In this case, the site first mined for sulfur in 1865, the year the Civil War ended is contaminated because of decades of mercury mining that took place there. The mine was once the largest producer of mercury in the state. Now owned by San Francisco-based Bradley Mining Co., the mine has been inactive since 1957.

Lamb, who helped form the nonprofit community group Clear Lake Environmental Action Network Inc. or CLEAN in 2003 to advocate for community's participation in, and understanding of, the site's cleanup, said the EPA has released the first phase cleanup proposal for the Sulphur Bank Superfund Site.

That plan includes road reconstruction, as well as removing mercury- and arsenic-laden mine wastes or "tailings" spread over a 120-acre area that includes 1,320 feet of Clear Lake shoreline.

The proposal also includes replacing three houses at the Elem Indian Colony, which is of particular importance; historically, members of the Elem Indian Colony used the tailings as construction materials.

The EPA invites public comment on the plan from now until Nov. 25 (see "How to find out more" box).

Work on the first phase, said Lamb, is scheduled to start next summer.

A second phase plan, Lamb reported, should be available to the public in February; that will encompass the mine site and the Herman Impound, an open and unlined mine pit that covers 23 acres and is filled with water 150-feet deep. An unscheduled future phase of the project, according to CLEAN, will include a study of the mine's effect on Clear Lake's water.

CLEAN will host a community meeting on the plan's options for removing the hazardous materials at the Elem Indian Colony at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4 at the Clearlake Oaks Senior Center, 12502 Foothill. The group's technical advisor, Dr. Dietrick McGinnis, will provide a summary and discussion of the proposed EPA cleanup plan, and how it may affect Clearlake Oaks residents. Rick Sugarek, EPA remedial project manager, and Pui Man Wong, EPA community involvement coordinator, will also be available for questions.

Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine time line

1865-1868: The site is mined for sulfur.

1899-1902: Mercury ore mined at the site by underground methods.

1915-1918: Mercury ore again mined at the site, underground.

1922-1947: Mercury continues to be mined, but now open pit methods are used.

1955-1957: The last run of open pit mercury mining takes place.

1957: From this year on, the mine is inactive.

August 1990: The Sulphur Bank Mine's site narrative was printed in the Federal Register.

October 2005: EPA releases the cleanup proposal for the site.

Nov. 4, 2005: CLEAN plans community meeting on the proposed site at the Clearlake Oaks Senior Center.

Nov. 25, 2005: Public comment period on EPA's phase one cleanup proposal ends.

Summer 2006: Work on the site slated to begin.

Where to see the plan

The EPA documents are available at Redbud Library, 14785 Burns Valley Road, Clearlake; and Lake County Library, 1422 N. High St., Lakeport.

A copy of the document both in hard copy and on CD is also available for review at the Clearlake Oaks Senior Center, 12502 Foothill, Clearlake Oaks, phone 998-1950.

The public may provide written comments until Nov. 25. Comments may be directed to Rick Sugarek, Remedial Project Manager, US EPA, 75 Hawthorne St. SFD-7-2, San Francisco, CA 94105, telephone (415) 972-3151; or Pui Man Wong, EPA Community Involvement Coordinator, (800) 231-3075.

Local contacts:

Chuck Lamb, CLEAN: telephone, 998-0135; e-mail,