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Company contests citations following miner’s death

Hecla Mining Company is contesting four citations and $1 million in fines issued by a federal agency following a cave-in that killed a miner in April at the Lucky Friday Mine in northern Idaho.

Phil Baker, president and chief executive officer of the Coeur d’Alene-based company, said in a release Dec. 2 that the findings from the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s report did not support the four citations.

“In my opinion and upon examination, the report does not substantiate MSHA’s previously issued citations,” Baker said.

The federal agency has not yet made the report public, though Hecla officials said they expect the report to be posted on the federal agency’s website soon. A call to the agency from The Associated Press was not returned Dec. 3.

Federal investigators in September issued some of their findings and concluded that managers of the Lucky Friday Mine engaged in “aggravated conduct constituting more than ordinary negligence” by directing workers to remove ore from a pillar providing support. Investigators said that contributed to the collapse of a tunnel that killed 53-year-old Larry Marek of Kingston, Idaho.

In a different accident last month at the mine, 26-year-old Brandon Lloyd Gray died from his injuries after loose material gave way beneath him and a fall-arrest device that activates a device similar to a seat belt in a car didn’t prevent him from tumbling into a stream of rock.

Marek died in an April 15 cave-in at the mine, near the border with Washington state. His body was recovered on Easter Sunday, nine days after the ceiling collapse more than a mile underground. The 12-year company employee and his brother Mike Marek had just finished watering down blasted-out rock and ore in the mine in the Idaho Panhandle before the collapse. Mike Marek escaped unharmed.

Mining at the Lucky Friday involves drilling holes in a rock face, blasting it to rubble, then carting the debris to the surface to be processed into silver, lead and zinc. Miners often work more than a mile underground.

Despite the harsh conditions, Marek’s death was the mine’s first fatality since 1986.

“Our company works hard each day to have our miners return home safely to their families at the end of their shift,” Baker said in the statement. “This has been a gut-wrenching time for our company and for our communities.”

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