Lucky Friday Miner: 'I Feel Safer In That Mine Than I Do Driving - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Lucky Friday Miner: 'I Feel Safer In That Mine Than I Do Driving On Our Winter Roads'

MULLAN, Idaho. - Chris Davis has been a diesel mechanic at the Lucky Friday silver mine for four years. He spoke exclusively to KHQ Local News on Thursday after Hecla Mining Company, which oversees the mine, announced it would close Lucky Friday for a year to clean its main shaft as required by federal regulators.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) 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 and hauls both workers and materials. Hecla officials said they voluntarily closed the shaft providing secondary access to the mine until repairs could be made. Hecla officials said production was expected to resume in 2013. "My heart's at the Friday. I like working there, I like the environment, I feel safe there.

That's one of the safest mines we have," Davis said. "I feel safer in that mine that I do driving on our winter roads. Davis said he chose to work at the Lucky Friday mine because of the camaraderie between the miners and tight-knit Silver Valley community.

The closure will put Davis and close to 300 other miners and contract workers out of work "A good portion of us all have been laid off, which is a travesty because now everybody's going to have to go look for work outside the Valley which will be a serious hardship on families," he said.

took issue with MSHA inspectors, who he said they were inconsistent in their inspection process of Lucky Friday. "The first thing that was going through our head was the total inconsistency of the inspection process," Davis said. "Nothing in the last six months has changed in that shaft from what has been. So one can draw one of two conclusions: either they were so derelict in their duties that they let that shaft - the MSHA inspectors - let the violations go by and not make everybody aware of it so that we could repair it, or they have another agenda."

"There needs to be some real consistency and some real soul searching on their part to figure out why, all of a sudden, this is so unsafe that we can't travel," Davis continued. "If it was bad today, why wasn't it bad a year ago, two years ago? Nothing has changed in the shaft except years gone by."

Davis added, "We can't be expected to operate on one set of rules today and tomorrow come back and not have the same set of rules and expect us to be able to plan our lives, or plan our jobs, or even to have a decent working environment."

The 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. In November, Brandon Gray, 26, was buried in rubble while trying to remove jammed rock. Then in December, seven miners were also injured in a rock burst at the mine.

MSHA spokesperson Amy Louviere said the federal inspectors began scrutinizing the mine much more after the latest accident that trapped the seven miners.

"They had these two fatalities and the incident in December so naturally were going to pay more attention to a mine that's had that history," Louviere said.

Plus, Louviere said issuing an order to clean shafts is not uncommon in the mining industry. She said she also understands that people's families and livelihood are at stake.

MSHA has been regulating mine safety since the early 1900's. According to MSHA's website, an inspector must inspect underground mines at least four times per year as well as unannounced checks. In its latest inspection of the Lucky Friday mine, inspectors found 80 safety violations. In all of 2011, they issued 228 citations.

In the immediate future, Davis said he will live off of his earnings for as long as he can until he can find work in another mine. Many other miners have already moved to other areas of the country, including Alaska, Colorado and the Dakotas, in search of mining work.

Hecla officials said they are looking to appeal MSHA's ruling but said they are already taking steps to comply with the order and make the mine safer.

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