Lucky Friday Miners To KHQ: 'We Are Not Slaves; We Chose And Enj - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Lucky Friday Miners To KHQ: 'We Are Not Slaves; We Chose And Enjoy Working Here'

MULLAN, Idaho – Residents across the Silver Valley reacted with mixed emotions Wednesday morning after federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) officials announced an order to clean the Lucky Friday mine's main shaft that will likely leave it closed for several months.

Hecla officials, who operate the Lucky Friday Mine, estimate that between the time it takes to clean the Silver Shaft and build a bypass haulage way around a rock burst-prone area, the mine may not resume normal operations until early next year.

The federal mine inspectors closed the shaft last Friday as a result of what they said were hazards associated with sand and gravel buildup in the shaft. The shaft is the silver mine's main entrance and exit. It hauls both workers and materials. 

MSHA has been investigating Lucky Friday for months after two miners working for Hecla died last year. Larry Marek, 53, was crushed under a massive rock pile when his work area collapsed on April 15 Then in November, Brandon Gray, 26, was buried in rubble while trying to removed jammed rock.

Mullan City Councilman Chuck Reitz believe the closure was unwarranted. "We were attacked on two fronts: mines and labor," he said,

In the Silver Valley, Idaho, mining is not just what these workers do; it's who they are. Tributes are spread across the community in the form of statues, artifacts and memorials in towns like Kellogg, Wallace, Smelterville and Mullan.

Several miners declined to make a statement on camera but one miner who said he worked for the Lucky Friday Mine, delivered a written statement to KHQ. The letter, written on a Hecla Mining Company Equipment Repair Report writes:

"On behalf of Lucky Friday employees, I would like to give our point of view on what is taking place at the mine. Hecla is a great employer who has provided hundreds of good paying jobs to families in the Silver Valley. The Lucky Friday is one of the most desirable mines to work in. We are NOT slaves, we chose and enjoy working here.

Last month, we had our quarterly inspection by MSHA and only received ten citations, which is very good. One month later, MSHA shows up and writes 70 citations in one day. The MSHA is very hard to deal with. They are very inconsistent. One inspector will say to fix something one way – we do that – then another inspector will come by, not like it, and write a citation.

Our shaft has been inspected by MSHA for 30 years and has been just fine, until this time, it is all of a sudden ‘unsafe and must be shut down.'

There are no checks and balances for MSHA. They do whatever they feel like and there is nothing anybody can do about it. Due to MSHA, hundreds of families are on unemployment and businesses in the Silver Valley, Coeur d'Alene, and Spokane are suffering."

Reitz echoed that sentiments. He believes the mine closure will force many families to leave in search of new work.

"I know personally of four miners, three of which have already left the valley to go someplace else to work - left the valley," Reitz said.

It's a crippling blow Reitz said is felt not only by the workers, but local businesses as well.

"As they leave, all of these businesses close," Reitz continued. "Go through town, go through Kellogg, go through this whole valley. This valley will die."

Reitz isn't convinced safety concerns are the largest problems.

"The company would not send those men underground unless it was safe," he said. "Two accidents in 26 years? Come on."

Instead, Reitz blamed several government agencies including MSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Forestry Service for what he called unnecessary oversight.

"There's absolutely no way that any foreign government from this state should be able to shut that mine down," Reitz said. "This is a private corporation, these are private miners, they have no business in it."

Hecla scheduled a conference call and webcast Wednesday to discuss the latest developments at the Lucky Friday Mine. The live webcast can be accessed at www.hecla-mining.com under Investors.

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