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Front Page » September 4, 2007 » Local News » Hard times: Miners speak on loss of jobs at Tower Mine
Published 3,457 days ago

Hard times: Miners speak on loss of jobs at Tower Mine

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Laid off miners from the Tower Mine, David Berdan and Shane Winward attend a press conference at the command post for the Crandall Canyon mine disaster.

With the announcement of the temporary closing of Tower Mine in Carbon County, 170 workers have been affected in Carbon and Emery counties. Murray said all of the 170 jobs will be retained even if the miners do not want to relocate to the mines in Indiana and Ohio temporarily. When Tower reopens all of the jobs will be reinstated.

Murray Energy president, Robert Murray said they will wait for all 10 engineering firms to draw their conclusions on the safety of Tower which is a deep mine similar to the one in Crandall Canyon. Murray said they have operated Tower for one year and there have been no problems or incidents at the mine since it's been under Murray ownership. Murray said they absorbed all the miners they could into the West Ridge mine and that the management there chose the miners they kept and those who were layed off. The miners who were kept are a combination of miners from all three Murray mines in the area including Tower, West Ridge and Crandall Canyon. Murray is also involved with another mining venture at Lila Canyon and has been several years with the permitting process for this mine. When this mine opens it will add more mining jobs to the community.

Laid off miner David Berdan attended one of the press conferences held at the junction of the Crandall Canyon mine road and SR-31 in Huntington Canyon. Berdan said, "I live in Price and was notified this morning, (Aug. 26) that I was being laid off. I will just stay here and ride it out. I don't plan to go out of state. I have worked out of state before and I promised my wife I wouldn't do that again. I will just wait it out and play Mr. Mom. It's sad seeing the other miners though, many of them have young children and house payments and bills. I am fortunate because my wife has a good job and we'll be alright. It seems the more money you make the more bills you get. Some of Crandall miners have gone to Tower and some to West Ridge. There are only around 12 people left at Tower. I expect some of the Crandall miners will be without jobs, too.

"Bounces in the mine didn't really bother me. I didn't worry about them. They just work to relieve the pressure which is good. I felt safe in the mine. I have been layed off several times from mines. I worked from last August to December and then we were laid off. Then in January I worked at West Ridge from January to April and then to Tower from April until now. I have worked in at least 15 mines in four different states. When I heard of the lay-off I just thought, 'Here we go again.' During the time of this lay-off I am going to take some classes and get my fire boss papers."

Berdan speculated about the families of the trapped miners. He said he doubts they would want any more people hurt in a rescue attempt. "Murray has done everything he could do, he's been here 100 percent of the way and he's almost 70 years old. I think Murray is genuinely concerned with the safety of the mines. One of the reasons we were laid off last December was because the mine had higher methane gas levels. I think they do care about safety," said Berdan, "I also think you're responsible for your own safety."

Shane Winward, miner, also got the news that he was layed off from Tower. "I'm OK with it, they are just trying to be safe. They've been working on that memory cut where the miner is operated remotely. I don't know yet if I'm going to take the job out of state. I have a farm here and raise 50 head of cattle and I cut and bale my own hay. We are still trying to decide what to do. I still have a house in Sandy for sale, that I left when we moved down here. We have four children ages, 6, 12, 14, and 18 and we live in Wellington. I hate the big city. I feel safer in a coal mine than on the streets. It's not hard to find a job. We'll be OK. When a mine shuts down, though, there is a domino effect and it affects everyone; the trucking will slow down, the loadout at Wildcat will slowdown and everyone that needs the coal will be affected. I can do other things besides mine coal, I am also a heavy equipment operator. There are other jobs out there," said Winward.

Berdan referred to the closure which happened December 2006 when the levels of methane gas in Tower prompted the UtahAmerican Energy, Inc. to idle that mine until the methane levels were brought under control. This was done as a safety precaution and the company wasn't ordered to take this action. This is an excerpt from the article which ran in the Sun Advocate newspaper in December 2006. "We regret the temporary reduction in employment," stated Bruce Hill, director and chief executive officer of UtahAmerican. "But it is unavoidable as we accomplish remediation work to address the methane buildup just encountered. We have started drilling additional degasification holes vertically from the surface as well as horizontally from the coal seam. "

Emery County Sheriff LaMar Guymon in the background watches the exchange between Robert Murray, UtahAmerican Energy and one of the drillers, David Canning.

"We are also boring a 16-foot air shaft and installing a 1,500 horsepower blowing fan on the shaft for additional ventilation and methane control. In addition, the entire power distribution system is being upgraded to accommodate the increased electrical demand associated with the ventilation changes. The work is projected to be finished by March 31, 2007 and we are hopeful full production can resume by April 2007," continued Hill.

In an interview on Dec. 18, Murray reported that the 114 laid off miners included workers at Tower, West Ridge and Crandall Canyon mines.

The company press release stated that, "while any reduction in manpower is always unfortunate, we particularly regret the timing of this layoff being near the holidays.

"The layoff was caused by the sudden increase in methane levels and our deep concern for the safety of our employees takes priority over any other consideration."

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