Douglas County leaders decided Tuesday they support making Leviathan Mine a federal Superfund site.
Citing what they called lackluster efforts by California officials to clean up the mine, county commissioners told Environmental Protection Agency representatives they think federal intervention will be more effective.
"I feel a lot more comfortable now that you guys are here," said Commissioner Kelly Kite.
"The whole point of this thing is to get that creek cleaned up so the water that goes to this valley is fit for agriculture and fit for drinking," added Commissioner Bernie Curtis. "That's the future of this county and the counties below us."
The EPA hasn't decided whether to propose Superfund status for the toxic mine site, located 25 miles southwest of Gardnerville in Alpine County, Calif. A decision is expected later this week, but Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., who organized the day's meetings, predicted the request will be granted.
"I think it will happen," Bryan said from his Washington, D.C. office. "I think that (the commission's action) indicates how serious the potential damage is to the watershed. This is something that could affect the whole future of the area."
As a Superfund site, the mine would be eligible for federal funding to aid cleanup if the previous owners who caused the contamination don't pay. The mine operated between the 1860s an 1962 and has been discharging toxic runoff into the surrounding area.The runoff has damaged Leviathan and Bryant creeks, which drain into the Carson River's east fork.
While Superfund status would give the federal agency control over the process, it also allows the feds to go after previous owners whose activities caused the contamination.
"It is heartening to hear that the folks who did this may have to pay for it," said county commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen. "The Superfund designation might enable us to get some money from those who caused the problem."
Potential drawbacks include economic impacts on downstream users in the Carson Valley, who could be faced with restrictions related to the cleanup efforts, and a lengthy litigation process from previous owners.
Keith Takata, director of the Superfund division, said records show a clear chain of mine ownership and predicted litigation wouldn't be a major issue.
Though he couldn't promise downstream users won't be impacted if Leviathan is declared a Superfund site, Takata said EPA efforts would focus on the immediate mine area, which covers about 400 acres.
Takata said his agency could meet with concerned citizens to allay "misinformation" about the impacts of Superfund designation. County commissioners said they will promote similar efforts.