A major construction effort to remove toxic metals in tailings left from the long-inactive Blue Ledge copper mine on a private parcel in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has received a $2.5 million shot in the arm.

A major construction effort to remove toxic metals in tailings left from the long-inactive Blue Ledge copper mine on a private parcel in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest has received a $2.5 million shot in the arm.

The stimulus funds are in addition to the $11.1 million already received for the cleanup that was launched early this summer, said forest spokesman Paul Galloway.

The additional funding will allow the U.S. Forest Service to keep the roughly 50 people and heavy equipment working on the site, officials said.

The goal is to remove 48,000 cubic yards of hazardous materials from the mine area and place it in a nearby sealed repository in an effort to prevent the toxic chemicals from leaching into the watershed.

The mining tailings are laced with a heavy-metal mix of arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, sulfuric acid and zinc.

The mine, which was most active during World War I and has been dormant for decades, is about 33 miles south of Jacksonville in the Siskiyou Mountains just inside California. It is about half a dozen miles upstream from Applegate Dam.

The chemical ooze over the years violates the federal Clean Water Act. Seepage from the mine goes into Joe Creek, which flows into Elliot Creek, which in turn flows into the reservoir behind Applegate Dam on the Applegate River.

"They are doing great out there, but they will probably be shutting down due to winter weather in a couple of weeks," Galloway said. "They don't want to be working on those steep slopes when it gets slick."

The mined area left a large yellow scar on the side of Copper Butte, which rises to about 5,000 feet above sea level. The highest point is nearly 1,000 vertical feet above the lower portion.

After the snow flies this fall, the work will stop and the remainder completed in 2011, Galloway said.

Engineering/Remediation Resources Group Inc. of Martinez, Calif., has been contracted to do the bulk of the work.

Named for the characteristic blue sheen of weathered chalcopyrite, also called copper pyrite, the deposit was discovered by prospectors in 1898.

Because the nearly 700-acre mine is patented, making it private property, the Forest Service is working with the Environmental Protection Agency, which has jurisdiction on private land when it comes to environmental pollution. The Forest Service's concern is the environmental effect on the adjacent public forestland and the watershed.

The mining area includes several miles of horizontal tunnels and vertical shafts, called winzes.

Heavy metal grates will be installed at each adit in the mine to prevent unauthorized human access but still allow bats and other small night creatures to use the site as a home, officials said.

After the toxic material is removed, the area will be planted in native vegetation to reduce erosion and speed up the natural healing process.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail pfattig@mailtribune.com.