Crawford County received six separate citations from the U.S. Department of Labor Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for sites where the road districts were screening gravel for use on county roads. Two sites—one for each of the two county road districts—were inspected on April 30 and each one received the same three citations.
Problems included the fact that the county had failed to notify MSHA before starting operations; a written training plan was not developed, implemented, and a training plan was not submitted to MSHA for approval; and 19 road workers who had operated the mine were not provided with 24 hours of required training. After addressing the concerns, including ceasing the operations, the citations were dropped through written notification received by the county on May 10.
MSHA came in to inspect the areas where the county had been mining gravel for the first time in their operation. Although removing gravel for use on roads may not seem like a true mining operation, District #1 Commissioner Paul Watson noted that any time a material is taken out of the ground and separated into two or more products, it is considered such.
“We’ve never been required to meet requirements the quarries have to meet,” Watson said. “We’ve been operating illegally all along.”
But the county was ignorant of that fact.
“If I’d had any idea this was illegal, I wouldn’t have been doing it,” District #2 Commissioner Kenny Killeen said.
At the commission meeting held on Tuesday, May 7, commissioners made a conference call to Will O’Dell, a conference litigation representative with MSHA, to discuss options for rectifying the situation. The two options offered were to request a safety and health conference or to formally contest the citations in court.
O’Dell told commissioners they could request a conference within 10 days from the citation date, so, as of the commission meeting, they still had two days to submit a written request for that option. He also noted that, after 30 days, the county would be assessed a penalty. The conference is an informal method for dealing with the situation.
“Most people prefer the informal option, but some do go to court,” he said.
A safety and health conference can be conducted over the phone and the matter resolved through email and phone conversations. Any representative of the county can take care of that.
In order to go that route, O’Dell instructed the commissioners to write a letter on county letterhead, including contact information, the mine identification name and number, and the person designated as the county representative in the citations. He told them to fax the letter to the district manager in Dallas, Texas in order to get it submitted on time.
Presiding Commissioner Leo Sanders interjected, “I think both road crews have decided they’re going to cease operations with both plants.”
O’Dell said that could be noted in the letter. “Put as many facts in there to support what you want in helping to make a decision,” he said.
Sanders asked if the county should send two letters since there were two operations and two commissioners involved. O’Dell said that since there were two mine identifications involved, that would be appropriate.
Both district commissioners wrote letters requesting the safety and health conference option. Watson wrote in his, “I am the newly elected commissioner for Road District #1 in Crawford County and took office in January of 2013. Since that time, County Road District #1 has not screened gravel, and because I believe the county can purchase the product less expensively than producing it, we have no plans for any further use of the screens.” Killeen’s letter was almost exactly the same, although his had slightly different details since District #2 had been screening gravel since he took office in January. He wrote, “…we are ceasing all production immediately and have moved the screen off site.”
Commissioners consulted County Attorney Bill Seay who noted they should be sure to request that MSHA not seek fines or sanctions against the county.
The letters were faxed to the MSHA district office in Dallas and the county was to be contacted with a decision on whether to allow the safety and health conference. At the May 14 meeting, commissioners reported they had received separate letters from the forms that stated the citations had been dropped that said the request for the health and safety conference was denied because it would not be necessary.