The Spokesman-Review

Otter asks feds to explain mine shaft closure

WALLACE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter will ask federal regulators to hold a public meeting in the Silver Valley to explain their decision to shut down the Lucky Friday Mine’s shaft for safety reasons.

“When I get home, that letter will be on its way to Washington, D.C.,” the governor told a standing-room-only crowd Monday during a town hall meeting in Wallace.

Many in the crowd questioned the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s decision to close the shaft, which transports workers and material into the mile-deep mine.

Chuck Reitz, a city council member of the Mullan, Idaho, said he’s puzzled by the explanations that MSHA has given for the Jan. 6 shaft closure. Others noted that shaft had passed other federal inspections, which are given four times per year.

“There are a lot of inconsistencies, and it doesn’t make sense to us,” Reitz said.

Otter was invited to the Silver Valley to hear local residents concerns about the shaft closure. State officials estimate that closure, expected to last a year while repairs are made, could result in $25 million in lost wages in the Silver Valley.

MSHA spokesman Jesse Lawder said that agency officials frequently meet with stakeholder groups to discuss safety issues.

“We would welcome such an invitation,” he said in an email.

Officials at Hecla Mining Co., which owns the Lucky Friday Mine, estimate that it will take about a year to clean and repair the shaft to federal regulators specifications. The mine will be shut down during that time, putting more than 200 employees and contractors out of work.

In past interviews, MSHA officials that pipes that transport sand and cement into the mine are leaking, leaving deposits on the shaft’s walls. Some of the material is loose, posing safety hazards to employees traveling in the shaft.

“We wouldn’t have operated the shaft if it hadn’t been safe,’ Mélanie Hennessey, Hecla’s spokeswoman, said in a later interview. “But we’re making the best out of a challenging situation.”

The company hopes to have an engineering plan for the work within two weeks. Hennessey said company officials are working with MSHA to reopen the shaft “as safely and quickly as possible.”



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