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Bypass planned for Lucky Friday Mine

A bypass will be dug around an area of a northern Idaho mine where a rock burst injured seven workers last week, allowing work to resume in one of the nation’s deepest underground mines once a closure order is lifted, a company official said Dec. 21.

The 750-foot bypass will avoid the dangerous area and be used to remove silver ore from the Lucky Friday Mine, Hecla Mining Co. president and chief executive Phil Baker said in a statement. The mine near Mullan, about 60 miles east of Coeur d’Alene, is one of the nation’s top silver producers.

Seven miners were working when the rock burst occurred, sending three to hospitals. All have been released, but the mine has been shuttered since. Hecla was working to lift the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s closure order so work can begin on the bypass and other projects, the company said.

The company said digging the bypass and resuming mine production were expected to take until the end of February. The company expected to meet its 2011 production goal of nine million ounces of silver, Hecla said, and planned to mine 9.5 million ounces in 2012, despite a two-month delay while the bypass is constructed.

Hecla said the majority of more than 300 Lucky Friday employees will work on the bypass or other projects. Laid-off employees will be given the opportunity to work at its other properties.

The rock burst was the latest in a string of incidents at the mine this year. Miner Brandon Lloyd Gray, 26, was buried in rubble while trying to dislodge jammed rock on Nov. 17, and died two days later. On April 15, miner Larry “Pete” Marek was crushed when his work area collapsed. The Mine Safety and Health Administration found company safety failures that led to his death.

Prior to this year, the mine had gone 25 years without a fatality.

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