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Lucky Friday Mine avoids federal safety violation notice, after improvements

Federal mine safety officials will not issue Hecla Mining Co. a violations pattern notice, the mine company announced today.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration had issued a potential pattern of violations notice for the Lucky Friday Mine in early 2012, following two fatal accidents at the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan.

But after further review, and following more than $60 million spent on safety training and mine improvements, the MSHA said no final violation notice will be issued.

If the POV had been issued, the risk was that Hecla might have had to close the mine again, or make more focused safety efforts at the Lucky Friday.

The mine was closed for more than a year as Hecla managers made the investments and installed new equipment in the silver, zinc and lead mine.

"We are pleased that following the rehabilitation of the shaft, training and other work, MSHA has decided that the PPOV is not required. We have worked with MSHA, and are continuing to enhance many aspects of the mine’s operations and safety, including implementation of the National Mining Association’s CORESafety Program,” said Phillips S. Baker, Jr., Hecla’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

The Lucky Friday mine resumed operations last month.

Hecla lost around $135 million by not operating Lucky Friday for a year

This week's major news in North Idaho was the announced reopening of the Lucky Friday mine, in Mullan.

For most folks, the Lucky Friday is called a silver mine. In fact, it also produces good amounts of lead and zinc.

Hecla Mining had to shut down mining of those metals for more than a year, following investigations by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Based on the year's typical production of silver — described as roughly 3 million ounces — Hecla missed out on about $90 million in revenue for that metal. But that's just for silver.

When the loss includes no revenue for zinc and lead, the total loss for the company comes to about $135 million over the full 13 months of non-production, said company VP of Investor Relations Jim Sabala.

Photo by SR photographer Dan Pelle:  Hecla CEO Phillips Baker Jr. discusses the reopening of the Lucky Friday mine.

Hecla reopens Lucky Friday mine after extensive safety steps

After being closed for more than a year, Hecla’s Lucky Friday silver mine has resumed protection, following a series of safety upgrades that cost more than $30 million.

The mine was closed on orders from federal mine inspectors following a rock burst that injured seven workers in December 2011.

The mile-deep silver mine in Mullan, Idaho, is expected to return to full production later this year. The company announced all employees were recalled and received supplemental safety training.

The rock burst injuries followed fatal accidents at the Lucky Friday that killed two miners in April and November of 2011.

Hecla officials also said the company completed a new bypass drift at the main shaft’s 5,900 foot level, around an area impacted by the December 2011 rock burst. Hecla reporting spending roughly $30 million on the rehabilitation of the main silver shaft and an additional $26.2 million on other Lucky Friday capital projects unrelated to the shaft renovation.

If you thought that would help Hecla's stock, that's not so.  As of 11:30 a.m. Pacific time, the stock dipped  9 cents or 1.5 percent

   

Hecla names new manager for Lucky Friday Mine

Hecla Mining Co. has made management changes at the troubled Lucky Friday Mine.

Ed Sutich has been named vice president and general manager of the underground silver mine in Mullan, Idaho.

He replaces Jeff Jordan, who has moved to Hecla’s corporate office as vice president of technical services.

The Lucky Friday Mine is closed while the company completes about $30 million worth of work on the main shaft.

Federal inspectors ordered the shaft closure in January after a special emphasis safety inspection that was triggered by two fatalities at the mine in 2011.

Sutich, the mine’s new general manager, has 30 years of mining experience. He previously was Freeport Indonesia’s manager of underground development.

Jordan will be responsible for mining and geotechnical engineering and metallurgy in his new position.

Michael Wegleitner has been appointed as Hecla’s safety and health director. He has spent 25 years working on those issues in the mining, construction and energy industries.

Hecla Shuts Lucky Friday For Year

Hecla Mining Company’s stock price tumbled this morning after the Coeur d’Alene-based company announced Tuesday evening a year-long closure at its Lucky Friday Mine in North Idaho for removal of built-up material in the silver shaft. Hecla’s stock, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, lost a quarter of its value in morning trading today. It was trading around $4.40 a share at 8 a.m. Pacific, down $1.44 from the close Tuesday. That’s the lowest it has been since mid-2010. Federal mine inspectors, who are investigating accidents at the Mullan, Idaho, mine, closed down Lucky Friday’s main shaft last week as a result of hazards associated with loose rock. The vertical shaft is the underground silver mine’s main entrance and exit, and hauls both workers and materials/Spokesman-Review. More here.

Question: Do you own Hecla stock?

Idaho U.S. Attorney’s office gets biggest payment ever: $77M from Hecla settlement

The U.S. Attorney's office for Idaho posted its biggest collection ever today, when Hecla Mining Co. paid $77.5 million as part of a settlement involving the Bunker Hill Superfund site in North Idaho. The settlement was announced by the U.S. Department of Justice in June; in it, Hecla agreed to pay $263.4 million plus interest to the United States, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, and the state of Idaho. The settlement is to pay for cleanup of mining contamination in the Coeur d'Alene Basin.

Payments already have been made to the tribe and the state; Hecla is scheduled to pay another $43.3 million to the federal government by August of 2014. “This historic recovery to resolve one of the largest cases ever filed under the Superfund statute compensates the United States for more than three decades of clean-up efforts," said U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson, "and establishes a strong basis for future cooperation between Hecla Mining Company, the tribe, the state, and the federal government.”

Idaho Citizens Make Plea for Funds from Hecla Settlement

Today I received a press release from Bob McCarl concerning a hearing that will be held at the Federal Courthouse in Coeur d'Alene tomorrow at 1:30pm. Citizens affected by the Bunker Hill Supefund site will be on hand to hear the outcome of the $263 Million dollar Hecla settlement. Plaintiffs in the case, EPA, Idaho Stakeholders, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the State of Idaho and their numerous legal representatives will be present to support their claims in front of Federal Judge Edward Lodge.



The settlement ranks among the top ten settlements in Superfund history. Is it enough? Is it enough? Well, the money will be used to cleanup lead, arsenic and other heavy metals from their mining operations that have polluted 160 miles of the Coeur d’Alene River, its shoreline and downstream water bodies including Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane River.

The Spokesman reported
about 150 tundra swans died last spring after ingesting toxic doses of lead in marshes along the Coeur d’Alene River and many of the river’s tributaries are too polluted to support fish.

From the press release:

Within the guidelines of the CERCLA law that established the Superfund program; the mission of the act is to protect the environment and human health. The Silver Valley Community Resource Center, under the direction of its volunteer director Barbara Miller, filed a Pro Se (independent) Motion request to be heard in the case on behalf of community members. The aim of the Motion is the establishment of a Community Environment Center that will offer universal lead screening, testing, and intervention; as well as provide support for economic, historical and cultural programs. Judge Lodge has ordered that public comment be allowed in this case. Many affected citizens wrote in favor of funds being set aside for community use. To date, no specific monies from the many millions spent on the Superfund have been set aside for community or environmental justice programming in the Silver Valley, although this case has been on-going for almost thirty years.

Body Of Lucky Friday Miner Recovered

The body of Lucky Friday miner Larry Marek was recovered this afternoon after he was killed in a mine collapse on April 15, Hecla Mining Co. announced today. The Coeur d’Alene company had had crews working 24 hours a day since that collapse trying to reach Marek in hopes he survived the cave-in and was trapped behind a massive rock pile. However, the company issued a news release at 7 p.m. saying that the 53-year-old’s body was recovered and that his family had been notified. “Words cannot express the deep sorrow we feel at the tragic loss of our friend, colleague and 30-year veteran of the mining industry. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, loved ones and friends,” the release said/Spokesman-Review. More here.

INW: Mine Rescue Try Alters Course

A Lucky Friday miner was positioned at the front entrance of the mine in Mullan on Monday. He was keeping out the general public while crews worked to free trapped miner Larry Marek. Hecla has altered its rescue attempt as a result of unstable ground. See story below. (SR photo: Kathy Plonka)

Missing Lucky Friday Miner Identified

Lucky Friday miner, Brad Sala, of Mullan holds his 8 month-old-son Cael Sala during the press conference at Mullan City Hall today. One miner is still trapped in the mine after a cave in. (SR photo: Kathy Plonka)

Community members and media accounts have confirmed the identity of the miner trapped more than a mile underground at the Lucky Friday Mine. Larry “Pete” Marek, a longtime Silver Valley miner, has been the subject of an intense rescue effort since a collapse at the mine Friday evening. Company officials continued to call their efforts a rescue operation nearly 24 hours after the roof of a tunnel where the miner was extracting silver-bearing ore collapsed.“We’re doing everything we can to reach the employee,” said Phillips Baker, Hecla’s chief executive officer. “Our current focus in 100 percent on the rescue of the employee and to ensure the safety of the rescue team”/Becky Kramer & John Stucke, SR. More here.

Update: Special digging machine arrives in Mullan to aid search for missing miner/Spokesman-Review

Hecla May Pay $263M For Pollution

Hecla Mining Co. has reached a tentative settlement with the federal government, Coeur d’Alene Tribe and state of Idaho over its role in turning the Coeur d’Alene Basin into a Superfund site, company officials said today. Under the proposal, Hecla would pay $263.4 million over the next four years to resolve the company’s financial liability for historic releases of heavy metals into the environment. By April 15, the parties must report on the status of their negotiations in U.S. District Court in Boise. “The opportunity to settlement this litigation is an important milestone for the company,” Phil Baker, Hecla’s chief executive officer, told financial analysts today during a conference call/Becky Kramer, SR. More here.

Question: Are you happy with this tentative agreement?

Hecla to open Wallace office again

Hecla Mining Co. is opening an office in Idaho’s Silver Valley to keep local residents abreast of future expansions at the Lucky Friday Mine and the company’s role in environmental cleanup in the area.

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo will speak at the grand opening of the new office at 10:30 a.m. Friday at 611 Bank St. in Wallace. The event is open to the public.

“The one constant for Hecla in nearly 120 years of mining throughout North and South America has been our presence and operations in the Silver Valley,” said Phil Baker, Hecla’s present and CEO.

Over the next 12 months, Baker said company officials will make decisions about the future of the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan, Idaho. A $150 million to $200 million expansion of the mine is under consideration, which allow the company to access silver deposits below the existing workings.

Hecla’s corporate offices were located in Wallace until 1986, when the company moved its headquarters to Coeur d’Alene.