Cleanup efforts at an abandoned mine in the Carson Valley could begin sometime this year, and the Bureau of Land Management will use one-time funding to kick off the project.
Residents around the Veta Grande Mine site, located 10 miles southeast of Gardnerville, remain guarded about the cleanup prospects after an open house hosted by the BLM last week.
About 20 neighbors of the mine attended the informational meeting at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, after learning that some domestic water wells have shown traces of cyanide.
They were told the overall cleanup of the site could cost more than $4 million and could last for several years.
"Just to hear the word cyanide is scary," said C.J. Johnson, whose well was one of five found to have traces of the poison, used to leach minerals from the mine.
"What I want to know is how this is affecting me? I'm not in the best of health. I'm not saying it's the water, but I want to be sure," Johnson told BLM geologist Dan Erbes.
Johnson and her family have resorted to drinking bottled water after learning their well was one of five that tested positive for cyanide.
While the traces found are not harmful, according to clean water standards, Johnson said the standards for safe levels were established more than 20 years ago.
"There is cyanide in our water and we're told that it's not at levels considered dangerous. But those standards are 25 years old. That's a long time and things may have changed."
The Veta Mine site, also known as the Mammoth Mine, covers about 90 acres of public land in Douglas County. Well samples by the BLM have revealed low levels of cyanide in five water wells.
The BLM has confirmed the levels do not exceed federal or state drinking water standards.
The mine remains a safety hazard and a source of air and water pollutants such as heavy metals and cyanide, said Neal Brechcisen, a BLM geologist in charge of the cleanup.
The gold and silver mine dates back to 1862 and was abandoned about 12 years ago by Veta Grande Mining Company, which did not follow through with a reclamation plan. Since then, the BLM has undertaken clean up of the site.
The BLM has restricted access to the site and continues to collect water and soil samples. Since work began in 1992, the agency has already cleaned up substantial metal debris and more than 150 containers of solid and liquid waste substances at the site.
Recent tests, however, show contamination remains.
Funding sources are beginning to come in, according to Richard Conrad, BLM assistant manger of nonrenewable resources.
With one-time funding available this year, the BLM will begin cleanup of what it calls the "time-critical areas," or those areas around the mine site that are considered hazardous.
"We hope to have the money obligated and contracts drawn by the end of the year," Conrad said.
The Environmental Protection Agency reopened the file on the Veta Mine site after a request by the Washoe Tribe, which has property adjacent to the mine.
Tribal member Steven James, who attended the meeting, said he wants to know what the BLM has in store for the cleanup.
"I'm here because we want to know how the cleanup will affect (Washoe) land. We want to know how they're going to do it and when theyOre going to do it," James said.