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W.Va. coal board wants say in Sago inquiry

The West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety met in Charleston on Friday and expressed concerns about its role in the investigation of the Sago Mine tragedy that took the lives of 12 miners.

Several board members asked Kenneth Dickens, board administrator, to write a letter Davitt McAteer, former head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, to clarify the board’s role.

McAteer heads a committee created by Gov. Joe Manchin to investigate the causes of the Sago tragedy, including six state legislators.

Members of the state board, created in 1977, said they are eager to work with Manchin’s committee, MSHA and the Legislature.

During its Friday meeting, the board received brief updates on the Sago tragedy, including efforts to ventilate the underground mine workings, and the Logan County mine fire that had trapped two miners in Massey Energy’s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine.

Chris Hamilton, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association and a member of the board, said, “The coordination of all this is a little bit of an issue. ... We want to improve communications.”

Steve Cook, a former state delegate and senator who is a board member, noted the Legislature set up the board nearly 30 years ago because it “felt it would be good to have a small group of knowledgeable individuals looking at these issues.”

Cook said board members “should have an opportunity to attend meetings” of the governor’s committee.

Chuck Boggs, a Charleston businessman and longtime board member, also said the board must play an active role in the Sago investigation.

“We cannot be 10 cars behind the bus. We need to be leading the bus,” Boggs said. “All the investigations are supposed to be combined.”

Rick Glover, a retired coal miner and United Mine Workers official, said board members will meet with Manchin’s task force.

“We have the right to initiate our own investigation. And we want to participate in any investigation,” Glover said.

Doug Conaway, head of the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, did not attend the Friday meeting because he was working with relief efforts at the Aracoma mine.

Dave Ashby, a safety manager for Peabody Coal, and Carl Egnor, a retired miner, also attended the meeting as board members.

The board plans to meet again to discuss the Sago Mine tragedy on Wednesday at 1 p.m. in its offices at 1615 Washington St. E. in Charleston.

To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.


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