Company faces $500,000 fine in fatal 2007 mine collapse

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 10, 2012 2:13 AM
Company faces $500,000 fine in fatal 2007 mine collapse

By James Nelson

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - The owner of a Utah mine where six workers and three rescuers died following a 2007 collapse will be fined $500,000 to settle criminal charges against the company, attorneys said on Friday.

The announcement that Genwal Resources Inc, corporate owner of a coal mine at Crandall Canyon, had agreed to the settlement came the same day U.S. prosecutors filed the criminal case.

A collapse at the mine in August 2007 left six workers trapped 1,800 feet underground. The cave-in was so powerful that it caused magnitude 3.9 seismic waves.

Ten days later, three rescue workers were killed in a second collapse. Officials called off further efforts to reach the miners, who were never heard from after the initial cave-in.

While the bodies of the three rescuers were recovered, the six miners remain entombed in the mine.

In the criminal case against the company, Genwal was accused of failing to make a timely report to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MHSA) that an ejection of coal, also known as a bounce or a burst, had occurred in March 2007, which was five months before the fatal collapse.

A second count alleged Genwal mined in a prohibited area days before the collapse.

FAMILY MEMBER DISAPPOINTED

Frank Allred, 68, of Wellington, Utah, lost his brother, Kerry, in the mine collapse and said he was "disappointed" by the decision to have Genwal pay a $500,000 fine.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the agreement would prevent it from bringing other charges against Genwal over the 2007 accidents.

"Does that compensate or help those guys that are up there in that dark hole?" Allred told Reuters. "I really can't accept that."

David Barlow, U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah, said in a statement that nothing prosecutors can do "will ever bring back the miners and rescuers who perished."

"However, it is our hope that these charges, and the maximum penalties that come with them, will remind mining companies everywhere of the importance of obeying safety laws," he said.

A federal judge must still accept the plea deal.

If a court rejects the agreement, the company can withdraw the deal, said attorney Kevin Anderson, who represents the company.

Attorneys for Genwal said in a statement that evidence is lacking that "any conduct by the company" caused the first collapse that killed the miners or the second one that claimed the lives of the rescuers.

"Genwal has always maintained that its plan for mining the Crandall Canyon Mine was safe -- a belief that was shared by MSHA ... and the mine engineering firm on which Genwal relied," said the company's attorneys.

Families of those killed in the disaster sued Genwal in 2008, and the company reached a confidential settlement of the civil litigation the following year, Anderson said.

A garden with plaques honoring those killed in the mine has been built near the mine site.

(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Greg McCune)