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Mine rescue flaws called ‘glaring’

WHEELING — The Manchin administration is working to fix “glaring” problems with West Virginia’s mine rescue operations, the acting director of the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training said Thursday.

Gov. Joe Manchin also said Thursday that his administration is not going to stop with this year’s landmark law to require additional oxygen and better communications equipment in underground mines.

“Not one piece of legislation was passed to make mines safe,” Manchin told the International Mining Health and Safety Symposium in Wheeling. “We passed legislation for our rescue operations to go and get miners who are trapped.”

Manchin said that he has received some preliminary recommendations from Jim Dean, the acting state mine safety director, and is actively reviewing them now. Major shakeups to restructure the state mine safety office are possible, Manchin said, as are efforts to increase funding and staffing.

“We are taking a proactive approach to review all of the operations in Charleston and the field offices,” Manchin said. “I am pleased with the progress that has been made so far.”

Few details of Dean’s office review have yet been made public. On Thursday, Dean carried with him a report on the agency’s mine rescue operations, but said it was for the governor’s eyes only at this point.

In an interview, Dean did provide some information about what he plans to ask Manchin to do to improve the state’s own mine rescue teams.

The state operates two teams, but their members are scattered in various offices across the state’s coalfields, and most of their rescue equipment is housed at the agency’s Oak Hill office.

Dean said that he would like to consolidate the team members somewhat, and buy new equipment so that each of the two teams has adequate gear located at their offices. Dean said he has found that the state lacked some very basic rescue equipment, such as an advanced machine to more accurately test levels of various gases in underground mines. At Sago, Dean said, that machine had to be borrowed from CONSOL Energy Inc.

“These are some glaring things and needs that the experiences at Sago and Aracoma showed us,” Dean said. “Some of it is equipment we don’t even have.”

Dean said that he is not considering the costs of the potential reforms he is suggesting, and is instead coming up with a list of what he really believes the state needs. The governor’s office and lawmakers can make decisions about the costs, Dean said.

“I’m not looking at funding,” Dean said. “That’s someone else’s issue.”

Staff writer Ken Ward Jr.’s continued reporting on mine safety issues is being supported by a fellowship from the Alicia Patterson Foundation.

To contact Ward, use e-mail or call 348-1702.


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