Tower cleared to restart

THE UtahAmerican Tower mine in Utah, idled in late August for an equipment and safety examination, has received the go-ahead from federal officials and will recommence production in the new year.
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Underground at Tower.

Donna Schmidt

US Mine Safety and Health Administration spokeswoman Amy Louviere confirmed the conditional approval for International Longwall News Wednesday.

"A revised plan for the company was approved last Thursday," she said.

"The plan requires the retrofit of about 40 shields, among other items. When that work is complete, they can return to production."

MSHA Coal Mine Safety and Health administrator Kevin Stricklin concurred: "If they get everything in place, they could start up today."

Meanwhile, UtahAmerican told local newspaper the Salt Lake Tribune that the company is currently installing the needed safety equipment. Included in those alterations is the installation of a longwall system that can be operated from further away to aid in safer production.

"We hope to have the longwall automation completed and the Tower mine operational in early January 2008, at which time we will call back our laid-off employees," Murray Energy vice-president Robert Murray (son of founder Bob) said of the complex, which was voluntarily idled for the check.

About 170 workers were left without a job upon that announcement, and 11 more were laid off last week.

The longwall system, which Stricklin noted would be operated via remote control, is an important safety measure for Tower's crew, according to Murray.

"The health, safety and overall wellbeing of our employees is the highest priority to UtahAmerican and Murray Energy Corporation, and we remain committed to restarting the Tower mine and getting our employees back to work at the earliest possible time," he told the paper.

Some of Tower's workers were transferred to Murray's third operation in the area, West Ridge, while others were offered expense-paid moves to Ohio and Illinois to work in his eastern mines.

The mine, according to a report earlier this year by the Utah Geological Survey, has 19.3 million tons of leased reserves and the Aberdeen section of the operation was expected to produce 1.8Mt this year.

In the group's Coal Report, it also reported overburden at Tower to currently measure 2800ft, but future plans add another 400ft to that total, making the mine "deeper than any longwall machine has ever successfully been used in the United States".

Crandall Canyon sealed

Also on Wednesday, MSHA announced at a legislative briefing in Utah that Murray's Crandall Canyon operation that collapsed in August, killing six workers and three rescuers, has been sealed.

According to the Associated Press, the agency was presenting at a state commission briefing on the potential for the state to again regulate coal mining activity when it was learned that all three mains were sealed with concrete block in October, leaving the six workers and all equipment inside.

Stricklin told the group that the walls could be removed with any new effort to recover the bodies, but said the chances they would be found were slim.