The U.S. Forest Service has awarded $11.1 million in federal stimulus money to clean up the long inactive Blue Ledge Mine high in the Applegate River drainage just south of the California state line.

The U.S. Forest Service has awarded $11.1 million in federal stimulus money to clean up the long inactive Blue Ledge Mine high in the Applegate River drainage just south of the California state line.

The agency announced late Thursday that it was awarding nearly $9.8 million in stimulus funds to Engineering/Remediation Resources Group, Inc. of Martinez, Calif., to restore the old copper mine, which is located on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest's Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District.

An additional $1.3 million will be paid to the American Smelting and Refining Company Trust for the cleanup project, officials added.

Waste rock from the old copper mine, which operated early in the 20th century, is leaching sulfuric acid, arsenic, lead, cadmium, copper and zinc into the Applegate River watershed in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

Located at about 4,000 feet above sea level, the Blue Ledge Mine is roughly 33 miles south of Jacksonville.

"We're excited this project was selected to receive recovery dollars," Donna Mickley, district ranger, said in a prepared statement. "We expect to see numerous jobs created over the next two years as the bulk of the project is implemented, while also seeing the removal of a legacy pollution source here in the watershed."

The Martinez-based company will hire more than 20 local workers and an assortment of heavy equipment over the duration of the project, according to Brian Wetzsteon, ERG's project manager. It will place ads in local newspapers about those jobs as early as this weekend, he added.

Work on the project is expected to begin around July 1.

The company has extensive experience with mine remediation projects, including the stimulus-funded Iron Mountain Mine restoration project near Redding, Calif., as well as U.S. Forest Service hazardous materials contracts in Oregon, Washington and California, forest officials said.

Studies by researchers from Southern Oregon University have concluded the aquatic biology of Joe Creek has been severely disturbed by leaching minerals, and will continue to suffer unless action is taken to stop the flow of toxic materials into the watershed.

Residents downstream at the tiny community of Joe Bar on Elliott Creek have expressed concern that the cleanup could contaminate their water supply.

A recently completed engineering evaluation and cost analysis for the mine recommends constructing less than one mile of road on private land to provide access to the rock piles that are leaching the toxic materials. The contaminated material would be removed and placed on private land at a stable site and covered with impermeable materials, according to the recommendation.

Basically, the project will entail removing the toxic waste material on the site over this year, weather permitting, officials said. Reclaiming the site, installing erosion control measures, replacing topsoil and restoring native vegetation are scheduled to occur in 2011, they added.

Maintenance of the erosion control structures and monitoring the project's aquatic environment will continue for three more years.

Forest Road 1060, which leads to the mine, will be temporarily closed once the project begins because of safety concerns on the narrow, steep route, officials said.

The mine began operating in 1906 and work there continued through 1919, when activity dropped off as the demand for copper fell. There were limited periods of activity at the mine in the late 1920s and 1940s.

The hard-rock mine was named for the characteristic blue sheen of weathered chalcopyrite, the copper ore that miners took out of the Joe Creek drainage.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.