In our April and May 2001 issues we reported on the administrative hearings involving the 16-to-1 mine and their fight against countless MSHA citations,
many of which seemed to be driven by inspectors following their own agenda.
In January 2002, some of these citations were dismissed and others were upheld. Fines were reduced to under $1,100.
In March 2002, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered the mine to immediately cease-and-desist discharging water into a nearby creek. The board stated that water discharges from the 16-to-1 did not conform to drinking water standards of less than 10 parts per billion of arsenic. The Board immediately followed the order with an extension that gives the 16-to-1 until March 2005, to comply with the order.
Mike Miller, 16-to-1 president, pointed out that even if the mine shut down, the flow would continue. Any discharge is due to water that seeps into the mine and picks up arsenic along the way. The mine has not done any chemical processing for years.
Also in March, the Pacific Stock Exchange suspended 16-to-1 for noncompliance with listing maintenance requirements. The 16-to-1 adapted by setting up a trading venue on their own website.
In July, Mike Miller and Mine Manager Jonathan Farrell found themselves in court, facing felony manslaughter charges brought on by an accidental death at the mine in November 2000. The accident occurred when miner Mark Fussell drove a trammer under a chute that protruded into a tunnel. The charges allege willful violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules that require warning devices and marked off areas when overhead hazards are present. The mine was issued citations and fined over $13,000 by OSHA for the accident, which the mine is appealing, but that process is on hold because criminal charges have been filed.
Miller was adamant they would be acquitted. He stated that a light and flags were utilized to mark the protruding chute. This was recognized as sufficient in over fifty prior inspections over the past decade.
Miller is justifiably upset, not only by the criminal charges, but by the way they came about. Sierra County officials conducted an investigation into the accident and did not initiate charges. Nineteen months after the accident, the private California District Attorney Association (CDAA) used the Sierra County District Attorney to file charges and stated they would handle prosecution of the case.
The CDAA then changed tactics and convened a grand jury. This prevented Miller and Farrell from presenting their side of the case, as would be typical in a preliminary hearing. On October 31, 2002, the grand jury indicted Michael Miller, Jonathan Farrell and the 16-to-1 Mine, for involuntary manslaughter and for willingly violating OSHA regulations requiring warning devices and conspicuous markings for overhead clearance restrictions.
A gag order was then issued, preventing parties from commenting on the case.
The 16-to-1 Mine became the oldest continuously operating hard rock mine in North America after the closing of the Homestake Mine.
The 16-to-1 has documented much of this saga on their website. You can find it at: www.origsix.com
International California Mining Journal