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Alaska Placer Miners.... Flack from TV Reality Shows?

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Mining News: MSHA may topple Alaska’s placer miners

Inspectors are required to issue citations which, if not contested, may establish a pattern of violations and increase penalties

J. P. Tangen

For Mining News

Anecdotal reports are flowing in to the effect that the 200 placer mining operations in Alaska may expect visits from Mine Safety and Health Administration agents this field season and that operators should “have their checkbooks handy.” Rumor has it that the focus on placer mining was spurred, at least in part, by the Discovery Channel’s “Gold Rush Alaska” depicting some of the trials and tribulations of a start-up operation on Porcupine Creek near Haines.

MSHA is one of those government agencies out to save us from ourselves. It has an annual budget in the US$350-million-range, give or take a few tens of millions of dollars, and its mission is to make mining a safer and healthier way of life. Depending on who is doing the counting, the preliminary count for mining-related fatalities in 2010 was 71. Forty-eight of those deaths were at coal mining operations, and 29 were in a single incident at the Upper Big Branch Mine. 2010 was an especially bad year. In 2009, for instance, the total was 34 deaths.

Neither I nor anyone associated with the mining industry that I have met in the past 35 years would ever argue that even a single occupational death is within the bounds of acceptability. Nor are fatalities inevitable. On the other hand, for us, as a nation, to be spending US$5 million to US$10 million per capita to chase after a generally diminishing risk, at a minimum, requires scrutiny. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 450 people died working for the government in 2009; however, I do not see (nor do I recommend) anyone advocating spending US$10 million apiece to eradicate fatalities among government workers – granted there are a lot more of them than there are of us.

Mining operations should be safe. There is little justification for any dangerous condition to exist at a mine site. Undoubtedly, MSHA examinations have substantially contributed to the saving of lives and the prevention of injuries, just as stringent environmental regulations have leveraged industry to internalize the cost of dealing with pollutants and toxic substances. The question is not one of good or bad, however; the question is one of reasonableness.

It seems the debate must be replayed over and over again. Whether it is with health care or mine safety, with gun control or with seat belts, the spread of government into every interstice of our lives continues unabated, and now we are beginning to perceive, as least partially, the costly burden of this regulatory paradigm. As a nation we have bills we cannot pay. We have entitlement programs that are wildly out of control. We have manufacturers fleeing the country, electing to risk political instability in offshore locations to escape the cost of in-your-face regulators.

MSHA has designed a framework whereby inspectors must arrive unannounced (their movements on a property cannot even be shared by the workers). The inspectors are subject to personal sanctions if they fail to issue citations for something, anything. The theory seems to be that if it is a mine, there must be something wrong. It seems to matter little that mining is safer in the United States than most, if not all, other places in the world.

For Alaska’s placer mines, if the reports are true, 2010 will be a new and fascinating experience. Under our system of government, it makes no difference if you employ one person or 1,000, the one-size-fits-all requirements of law may prove to be enormously burdensome. The propensity of MSHA inspectors to cite even the most trivial offense will be a sting.

The miner will be forced to elect between paying the fine or contesting it. Contesting it will, of course, be very expensive; however, paying will have an even greater adverse consequence, because like Freddy Kreuger, the MSHA agent will be back. And when he returns, he will issue another citation, and another and another, whereupon the operator will have engaged in a “Pattern of Violations,” which will be an aggravating factor in calculating fines. Revised rules relating to patterns of violations are currently up for public comment until April 4.

Placer miners may well be accustomed to finding themselves between a rock and a hard place, figuratively and literally. They are accustomed to working their way over, under, around or through the barrier. This particular barrier, however, may prove to be a more difficult challenge than most.


I think we has a discussion about possible feedback that may affect the mining community from these shows.... :barnie:

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To my recollection, that conversation we all had also discussed how MSHA had changed from helping mines be safer to generating revenue for the behemoth.

Yep, we pretty much knew Discovery showing all the bonehead stuff was going to have an adverse effect. It has been compounded by regulatory orgs being forced into profit centers.

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The game is further complicated by the simple fact that-Receive a ticket and your operations must cease and desist all operations till code violations fixed AND re-examined-which can take months in places. So a short season become very easily NO season. Soooo that's why some will just pay the fine instead of lose the time--bummer is still gotta wait for next exam AND do the mandated repairs. No matter how insipid,assinine or ignorant or lose your short window of operations in the great frozen north- They gotcha and the reciprocations will still come from this show garbage for years to come with stricter regs,bans and numerous inspections to puff up the bureauratz pockets. bummer -John

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Yep, we pretty much knew Discovery showing all the bonehead stuff was going to have an adverse effect. .....

I really believe that with the environmental mindset of the Discovery Channel, it was their intentions from the beginning, sorta a Trojan Horse kind of thing!!!

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I really believe that with the environmental mindset of the Discovery Channel, it was their intentions from the beginning, sorta a Trojan Horse kind of thing!!!

I agree with that Skip..... I think there was an agenda from the start.

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The agenda of Discovery Channel is obvious. They definitely are not the miner's friend. Every episode of the Wild Justice that deals with independent miners suction dredging, starts off with still shots of dead fish on the bottom of the river and floating upside down. I've never seen a dead fish when I've been dredging, but apparently as soon as they show up, the fish die so they can be photographed. In dealing with Wild Justice, the show would be a no-show, if every person accused at the end of the camera would say 3 simple things:

1. "Sir, I will not answer any questions until the camera's are turned off and set on the ground facing away from us"

2. "Am I being detained?, am I free to go?"

3. "Sir, I'd love to answer those questions, but only under the advice of an attorney"

Give them your name if you want- but not while the camera is on, BUT SAY NOTHING ELSE.

It amazes me that anyone would talk to a ranger with a camera crew filming the conversation. I am sure the suspect is nervous, but shut up! You are admitting guilt in front of 240 Million viewers, which in my opinion is not a very smart thing to do.

If the film crew got these same answers from all the suspects, there would be no intrigue and thus, no show.

By the way, I am not an attorney, but I have talked to several of the pro-mining sheriffs and to other attorneys who have suggested this is the response you need to make to protect yourself.

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