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Stream safety posting comes late

Dave Moller

Apparent bureaucratic drag caused state, county and city officials to let one week pass before posting a stream pollution warning Tuesday in Grass Valley’s Veterans Memorial Park.

City Public Works Director Jeff Jewett said warning signs for high levels of arsenic were posted Tuesday afternoon along the Magenta Drain that runs through the park from Empire Mine State Historic Park above it. The signs warn people to not wade in the stream that runs next to a playground, handle the sentiment, or eat any fish caught from it until further notice.

“We found out about it this morning,” Jewett said Tuesday. “We got a call from the media.”

Jewett said the state water board sent him confirmation that an inspector had found illegal and possibly unsafe arsenic levels in the stream on Jan. 23. According to the same state report, the inspector notified County Health Officer Dr. Brent Packer and a staff member at the board of supervisors office by phone the next day, and in writing the day after that.

Packer said he did not know about the situation until last Friday, when he was informed by county Environmental Health Director Larry Sage.

“He said we’d be getting the notice for arsenic and they’d take care of it,” Packer said. “I got a phone message from the state about it, but I’m not sure why the city wasn’t contacted.”

According to the state report, Sage was notified by phone on Jan. 24. The Union was unable to contact Sage Tuesday.

State park Superintendent Ron Munson said he received notice of the arsenic levels late last Friday. He contacted the state park’s legal office Monday morning, “and there was a lot of review.”

Munson said he then contacted the city parks department about the problem, but did not know why the public works director wasn’t contacted until Tuesday.

“It probably didn’t get shot up the ladder,” Munson said.

Munson and Jewett issued a joint press release about the pollution that said the state parks department is working on a new plan to clean up contamination at the mine and that there is $5 million in next year’s state budget to deal with it.

“This is the tragic part of the legacy we have left with from the gold mining era,” the release stated. “We removed more than 46,000 tons in a cleanup of this mine in the late 1980s.”

The new cleanup is part of an agreement made in mid-January with the Baykeeper environmental group. State parks agreed to it after Baykeeper sued in 2004 to stop mine contaminants from flowing into the Magenta Drain and other area streams.

The drain originates from an old shaft of the mine, daylights above the city park’s tennis courts in Woodpecker Ravine, flows through the park and then underneath Memorial Lane.

The Empire Mine closed in the mid-’50s after producing 175 tons of gold over 106 years. The state purchased the mine, 800 acres of property around it and all its toxic waste, about 30 years ago.

The waste produced mercury, arsenic, cadmium, lead and other pollutants that flowed into area streams. Arsenic is a natural element of the Sierra that can cause poisonous compounds.


To contact senior staff writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com, or call 477-4237.

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