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Front Page » October 9, 2007 » Local News » Hearings on Crandall Canyon Mine Begin: Part Iv, Miners F...
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Hearings on Crandall Canyon Mine Begin: Part Iv, Miners Families Testify in Washington DC at Hearing


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By PATSY STODDARD
Editor

Family representatives from the deceased miners testify at the Congressional hearings in Washington DC.

The families of the nine miners who died In Crandall Canyon on Aug. 6 and Aug. 16 gathered in Washington for a congressional hearing of the education and labor subcommittee. Chairman Miller spoke first he said, "Thank you for participating, I would also like to extend our gratitude to Rep. Jim Matheson and Gov. Huntsman for their cooperation. They have been very helpful in making contacts. This committee is committed to a thorough investigation of what happened at Crandall Canyon mine. This committee will not be deterred from getting all the information needed from the department and company. It is critical to get the truth of events. Communities deserve to know the facts. We will see that the Deptartment of Labor takes seriously the safety of miners. They failed to move to see miners have tracking equipment. They failed to take control of the communications after the Crandall Canyon disaster. The lessons learned from Crandall Canyon will not be easy to sort out. We will take the steps necessary to make mining safer."

Rep. Buck McKeon from California said, "I am sorry for your loss. On Sept. 5 the House passed a resolution honoring the miners lost. I reiterate our deep condolences. We are working to assure mine safety. I worked on the MINER Act to improve safety and technology underground. There is a time line for MSHA to comply. We have been in regular contact with MSHA to examine the progress. I appreciate the efforts of Stickler to meet the OSE deadlines. Let the investigation run its course, to see what can be done to prevent this type of tragedy in the future.

"We have urged MSHA to share information with the Utah State Mine Commission. We are here today to hear the stories of those who have suffered a tragic loss," said McKeon.

Five family members of the deceased miners testified before the committee including Steve Allred, Mike Marasco, Cesar Sanchez, Wendy Black and Sheila Phillips. Allred was first, "I'd like to thank Chairman Miller for the opportunity to testify, and thanks to the UMWA for their support. In addition to those testifying today and the other family members, many more family members are here today, that have prepared written statements. Please accept all those written statements for the record. Since 1978 I've been a miner. I had never been underground before and didn't care for it for quite awhile, I thought I would only be there for a year and then move on, The more I learned and became friends with co-workers, I became addicted, coal mining got into my blood. I became a fireboss and miner operator. I didn't like MSHA telling me what I could and could not do. I got frustrated with the oversight and butted heads. Wilberg was a drastic changing point. During the recovery work, I learned the safety aspects of mining do's and don'ts. I realized what an important role MSHA can play in the safety of miners, I learned to appreciate the expertise of MSHA. In 1993 PacifiCorp bought the Trail Mountain mine. It was previously nonunion. As I entered the mine, I was stunned at the difference between the mine and the union Wilberg mine. I was shocked at the dangerous conditions that existed," said Allred.

Allred said at Crandall so much of the coal had been mined, the only coal left was what was left to hold the mountain up. If UMWA had been there the miners would have had a voice. The miners would have had the UMWA to back them up. "This lack of responsibility by the company and MSHA has led to my family being devastated; our lives are changed forever. Kerry's wife is having a hard time, we are trying to be strong for her. Only God can provide her the comfort she needs for the loss of her husband," said Allred.

Wendy Black spoke next by telling the committee about her husband Dale "Bird" Black.

Dale was a terrific father, he has two beautiful children Ashley, 22 and Corey, 17. He loved to ATV ride, hunt, fish and spend quality time with family and friends. Dale had 24 years of experience in mining. He started at Genwal In March 1984 when Genwal reopened. He was a miner operator, roof bolter and section foreman. I have never known him to be afraid to go to work. He said they were hitting the Richter scale at work on Aug. 5; big enough bounces to register on the Richter scale the night before the initial collapse. Crews were discussing the mine conditions.

"When Dale went on day shift on Aug. 6 he found out about the collapse. I found out about 8 am. I didn't hear from him until 10 p.m. when he arrived home tired. Dale and Petey rode together, every day of the rescue. I never knew when he would get home. For the entire rescue he would get four-five hours of sleep and get up and go hard again. On Sun. Aug. 12 I sat up with Dale because he couldn't sleep. He said on Aug. 5 on day shift he was trying to have his miner operator pull back because it was too risky, but he was told; 'you can't leave all that coal'. He wanted them to move out further to Section 121. On Aug. 16 he didn't take his lunch bucket that last day and he drove by himself. Why? Who was in charge? Who approved of this plan? Who would send rescuers in while drilling from above without knowing the effect that could have. How can a K order be modified 15 times? The plan was only the minimum amount of workers be working at the face. My husband felt he had to be there, These men were his friends and family in a way, The families had put up letters and pictures at the mine and the one that inspired him the most said, 'Bring my Daddy home; that gave Dale thec ourage and determination to go back in that hell hole. Who is accountable to see the rules are followed, MSHA has one job. It would have taken just one official doing his job to save my husband's life. How do you truthfully investigate yourself?" concluded Black.

Mike Marasco said, "My father-in-law Kerry Allred was a coal miner, he was a great father, brother, husband, son and grandfather. He was loved by everyone and well known. We will miss you dad. We want everyone to know we are thankful for the rescue efforts, you are all our heroes.

"I want to focus my remarks on the way the families were treated. From day one we were let down by the mining company and MSHA. We were told by Mr. Murray he would stop at nothing to find our loved ones dead or alive. Every day went by we were thinking maybe today. Sealing the mine is now being discussed, the families are trying to stop that process. We think that the families need closure. The manner which Murray and MSHA dealt with us for the first two weeks was unbelievable, we wanted to know when we would see our loved ones again. They told us what they wanted us to hear. Murray more than once yelled at us when we asked questions. The past two months have been a roller coaster for all of us. We made suggestions to help with the rescue efforts and were told no. We all have tragedies in our lives, but this one that shouldn't have happened, happened. May God bless all miners and their families.

"For the first two days there were no translators for the Spanish families. I believe we weren't treated with the respect we deserved," said Marasco.

Rep. Jim Matheson meets with the miners families in Washington DC.

Cesar Sanchez said, "As a family we have many questions, we want to know how the mine owner got a permit for this kind of mining. We want to know why MSHA put a rubber stamp on this plan. How often was this mine inspected? There had been more than one complaint about bumps. The company ignored this complaint. My brother was a miner for 17 years. He was concerned about safety and asked for a meeting. My brother asked me to get him a job at the mine I was working at in Wyoming. The Sunday, Monday shift was his last scheduled working day, he did not leave soon enough. Production was the company's main goal over safety. When you get people that all they care about is production and worry about safety later it is frustrating. It was hard to learn after the tragedy happened one of the old mine supervisors had said he had told them not to cut the barriers out. As families, we want the truth of what happened. MSHA said the company is thinking about sealing the portal, we feel like this is not being investigated at all. It appears MSHA and Murray worked together on the mining and the rescue. Someone needed to look after our interests to ensure everything possible was being done to rescue and now to ensure everything possible is being done to find my brother and the other miners. It is frustrating to learn UMWA won't be participating In this investigation. My brother and I were good friends. He gave me a hard time and I gave it right back. Unfortunately he's not here."

Sheila Phillips said, "It's hard to have hope and have your heart broke every day, and to watch your grandson grow up without his dad. We miss Brandon and we don't want this to happen to anyone else. We'd like to make the mines safer. I just miss him. I would like to know where my son is in that hole, so I could leave a marker on the mountain."

Cecil Roberts, president of UMWA spoke, "I appreciate the courage of the families. We could all learn from this kind of courage and leadership. I'd like to thank the rescuers who risked their lives. Three gave their lives trying to save someone else. I have been highly critical of MSHA and I want to make it perfectly clear I don't mean the those workers who walk into the mines with workers from union and nonunion mines. I mean the policy makers. We come with a single purpose to get our government to move to make our mines safer so that when a coal miner leaves for work the family has a reasonable expectation that miner is returning. I speak today not as the president of the union, per se, but I have 36 years experience as a coal miner myself. I represent workers at the national level. People are concerned with the safety of coal mines in America. It's very evident, there is no way this coal operator should have submitted this mining plan, no way the government should have approved. The real question for the panel would be why would a coal operator believe they could submit this plan and get it approved and why would this plan be approved in 12 days. I support your desire to get to the bottom of it. The only ones involved in this investigation are those involved in the approval of this plan. It is atrocious the way we treat families in these disasters they aren't told anything and they have to read a document four years later to find out what happened to their loved ones. I think we can do better."

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said, "These wonderful families been through a difficult set of circumstances the likes of which most of us could never understand. The uncertainty regarding their loved ones, that pain continues not only for them, but the communities they reside in. Coal is important to Utah's past and future. What might be done differently to protect these coal miners. Miners accept some risks to be employed in the mine. Miners would like to have safe mines, but are concerned if the mines become over regulated the mine companies will close the door. The federal government regulated mine safety since 1977, the state role has been reduced. Since 1987 it's been limited to miner certification. This most recent horrific accident at Crandall Canyon is a painful reminder that Utah must assess its role. I created the Utah Mine Safety Commission. The Commission is charged with the following, to review the role of the state safety inspection, review the Crandall Canyon disaster, examine how the state can assure itself that MSHA and private companies are assuring that everything is being done for miner safety. Information from MSHA, should have logical points of connection for the flow of information for the Utah Mine Commission. The Commission is concerned that a mine collapse should never occur again, if it should occur, have in place protocol and clearly defined authority and equipment and technology that could save miners lives as well as expedite recovery efforts."

Family spokesman Sonny Olsen accompanied the families back to Washington DC. He said, "The families attended the Senate hearings and they were impressed with Sen. Kerry and Sen. Murray. They demonstrated much understanding of the issues and paid attention to detail. They had many maps and information gathered by their staff. The miners families were impressed with the high ranking officials and their caring manner. During testimonies by various officials it was glaringly obvious red flags should have been raised when the mining plan for Crandall was approved. These red flags were apparently ignored. Floor upheavals and other warning signals should have been addressed. When workers mentioned these concerns they were told to go back to work. Concern over MSHAs approval of the plan without proper review were also questioned. A graduate student reviewed the mine plan and it is felt it was rubber stamped through the system. MSHA testifies they don't have enough manpower to go around. Why were they pulling barriers in this mine?

"When the families testified in the Congressional hearing it was interesting to hear the questions from the Congressman. These leaders were upset that mine operators have not implemented the safety requirements from the MINER Act. The UMWA representatives were very adamant that these procedures and safety requirements be implemented. The mining industry cannot wait 30 years, something needs to be done now.

"The families were reluctant to come to Washington DC, for the hearings, but they wanted something good to come out of the mine disaster. If their work and help can bring more safety to the coal mines of Carbon and Emery counties and mines everywhere, they will do everything they can to bring about this end result. Something must be done right now to make sure this disaster is not swept under the rug. Every mining plan must be reviewed at a much higher level and with much expertise.

"This was extremely difficult for the families, but they did this because something has got to change. We can't keep mining the same way. We cannot put profit before safety, this was not a sightseeing tour. The families were in meetings from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. They attended meetings and testified and visited our Congressmen. The families want the Senate to show some teeth. Hearings go on after any death in a mine. The Senate needs to show some teeth so more mine operators comply with the MINER Act. Our community is fragile.

"I don't think we can go through another disaster. Mine operators need to be held accountable and this Act needs to be enforced appropriately. That's why these families went to Washington. They want to make sure that miners are protected. With all the benefits and fund raisers that have been held for these families, they feel a sense of duty to help protect the miners of Emery and Carbon counties," concluded Olsen.


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