MINDEN - Environmental Protection Agency scientists are researching ways to clean up Leviathan Mine, even though the mine probably won't be made a federal Superfund site until April.
Superfund Project Manager Kevin Mayer said a Superfund designation is likely, so EPA officials have started gathering information on the abandoned sulfur mine that has been leaching toxins into two creeks that drain into the east fork of the Carson River.
"We think it is appropriate to move forward even before it goes on the national priority list," Mayer said from his San Francisco office. "There is not much doubt in my mind this will become a national priority site. Even though things aren't official, we're still moving on to try to better understand the system so we can try to come up with ways to mitigate the risks."
Superfund status would provide access to special resources for cleanup at Leviathan, but it would also mark the 400-acre site as one of the most contaminated in the nation.
The mine, located about 25 miles southwest of Gardnerville in Alpine County, Calif., operated intermittently from 1863 to 1962. Acid mine drainage now produced at the site has obliterated aquatic life in Leviathan and Bryant creeks, which drain into the Carson River's East Fork.
EPA officials toured the site in October, before formally proposing listing of the area as a Superfund site. A 60-day public comment period ended Wednesday.
Mayer said the EPA received several letters in support of the listing. Two raised technical issues about water quality and whether the actual contamination warranted Superfund status, and Mayer said the agency plans to research those concerns.
As a result, the mine probably won't be included in the next round of Superfund site decisions, due in January. The EPA makes the declarations once a quarter, and the following set would be announced in April.
Mayer said Leviathan brought more comments than usual. Douglas County, the Washoe Tribe and the Carson Water Subconservancy District, which oversees river-related issues in four Nevada counties, were among those who sent letters supporting a Superfund designation.
"It is rare that we have elected officials weighing in as much as they did on this site," Mayer noted.
He said the EPA will probably hold informational meetings in Douglas County to explain the impacts of Superfund status. Mayer said he is scheduled to address the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce in January, but he also hopes another forum could be held that could include results of studies on fish populations in the Carson River. The studies, done by fish and game, tribal and other authorities, could illustrate impacts of mine runoff on the fish.
Mayer also noted that a Superfund designation, if given, doesn't automatically mean a change at Leviathan. Cleanup efforts, already under way for almost two decades, could take many more years.
"We've got some hard work ahead of us," said Mayer. "The listing is not the cure. The listing is the start of a search for a final solution."