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Helicopter seeding of Bear Creek Greenway begins

A helicopter passing back and forth along the Interstate 5 corridor is dropping seeds to replant areas of the Bear Creek Greenway charred by the Almeda fire.

The flights started Monday morning and will continue through Tuesday and possibly Wednesday, said Steve Lambert, parks program manager and Emergency Operations Center operational group leader for Jackson County.

“This is an important step to continue the effort to restore the Bear Creek Greenway,” he said.

The seed being dropped is a blend recommended by local botanists. The seeds were chosen for quick germination and growth to stabilize denuded soils — while not introducing invasive weeds or contributing to large amounts of new fuel growth for next summer, county officials said.

The work started Monday in Central Point in an area burned by a smaller fire that broke out while crews were still fighting the Almeda fire that started Sept. 8 in north Ashland. The wind-whipped Almeda fire tore through Talent and Phoenix to the southern outskirts of Medford.

The helicopter is working from its starting point in Central Point south along the swath of land burned by the Almeda fire.

With help from search-and-rescue volunteers, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is clearing people ahead of the reseeding to keep everyone safe, Lambert said.

The Bear Creek Greenway walking, biking and jogging path will be temporarily closed in sections to the public.

The county has ordered a semi-truck load of straw to be scattered on reseeded areas to help with erosion control. Beginning this weekend, volunteer work parties will scatter the straw, Lambert said.

He said the county reached out to groups concerned about watershed health and has hundreds of people interested in volunteering.

The county has contracted with the ecological restoration nonprofit Lomakatsi Restoration Project to carry out more intensive erosion control in medium-priority areas, Lambert said.

The Environmental Protection Agency is tackling high-priority areas, including seeps, springs and inlets where water could flow into the creek from burned neighborhoods, he said.

Burned neighborhoods are contaminated with heavy metals, chemicals and other hazardous materials.

EPA crews did a “soft start” on household hazardous debris cleanup this weekend and cleared 21 properties, EPA Incident Commander Randy Nattis said.

They started work in earnest Monday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state of Oregon are covering 100% of the cost of the phase one household hazardous waste removal. The service is free for property owners.

FEMA has committed to covering at least 75% of the cost of the phase two general fire debris cleanup, although the state is lobbying for more help. Property owners will not be asked to contribute insurance settlement money for rebuilding toward cleanup costs, but they may be asked to contribute settlement money if any is specifically earmarked for cleanup costs, officials said.

Property owners who want to take part in the coordinated cleanup effort need to sign a right-of-entry form to allow crews on their land. Forms are available at www.jacksoncounty.org/roe.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune A helicopter seeds burned portions of the Bear Creek Greenway near Costco in Central Point on Monday.