Mining blackspot finally shut down in KY

A KENTUCKY coal mine blighted by numerous health and safety failings and deemed by government inspectors to be unsafe has halted production.

Dani Malone

K&D Mining’s no 17 mine was the target of several surprise safety spot-checks that found a multitude of risks to miners’ safety and instigated thousands of dollars of now overdue fines.

Federal officials confirmed the Harlan County operation in Highsplint finally put the brakes on its coal production on June 22.

As details of the shutdown emerge, it is unclear if the situation is permanent or if the owners of the mine, Ralph Napier, John D North and Jack Ealy, plan to reopen any time soon.

Napier and North formerly operated Kentucky Darby mine no 1, where a 2006 blast killed five miners.

Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing spokesman Dick Brown said K&D had not abandoned its mining license.

Last month, ILN reported news the US Mine Safety and Health Administration had ordered the closure of K&D Mining’s no 17 operation in eastern Kentucky after finding dust accumulations, a broken warning light and a broken conveyor belt, among many other hazards.

In May, Kentucky’s coal operators were singled out as owing more delinquent fines to the MSHA than in any other state.

The finding was part of a published report, conducted by the state’s Courier Journal, which said many of the unpaid penalties in Kentucky and around the US were years old, some even dating back to 1993.

Millions of dollars in fines have been referred to the Department of the Treasury or the Department of Justice for collection but observers said they were unlikely to be repaid due to company bankruptcy and the abandonment of mines.

Regulators in Kentucky are investigating whether mining licenses of K&D employees should be revoked after the safety inspection found so many safety hazards at the mine during the surprise visit that it was closed for nine days in order to address the most urgent issues.

Documents obtained by the newspaper revealed inspectors found little or no air ventilation where miners were working, thick accumulations of coal dust that could cause black lung or lead to explosions, conveyor belts rubbing against metal and covered in coal dust as deep as nine inches and a mining machine with 22 electrical hazards and clogged water sprays.

One federal inspector wrote the mine operator had “engaged in aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence”

The mine owes more than $500,000 in overdue fines for safety violations.

MSHA chief Joseph Main recently singled K&D out as a bad example on safety, saying “there are still mines that haven’t got the message”

Relatively small Kentucky is home to an exceptionally high number of small-sized coal mines, with more than 420 dotted around the state.

California Reps George Miller and Lynn Woolsey, both Democrats, last month asked Napier, North and Ealy to submit a plan for paying all of the $1.5 million in overdue fines their various mining companies owed to the federal government.

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