No probe planned by OSM in strip mine boulder death

Federal strip mine regulators have no immediate plans to investigate the death last week of a Virginia boy who was hit by a boulder that rolled off a mine site and into his bedroom.Instead, U.S. Office of Surface Mining officials will wait for the findings of a state probe of the Friday morning accident.“We’ll monitor the situation and, at an appropriate time, OSM will determine what role, if any, we should play,” said agency spokesman Joe Pally.Jeremy Davidson was asleep when the rock burst through the wall of his family’s modular home at about 2:30 a.m. and landed on top of him.“An overturned toy fire truck and an Incredible Hulk action figure lay beside the mangled metal bed,” reported the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier.The rock bounced onto the floor, and broke through another wall into Jeremy’s brother’s bedroom, the Herald Courier said.“The rock stopped when it touched the edge of the football-printed sheets that covered his brother’s bed,” the newspaper said.State officials said that the rock measured 3 feet by 3 1/2 feet by 2 1/2 feet. They did not provide an estimated weight. The incident occurred at Inman, a small community about 90 miles southwest of Williamson.On a ridge above the town, A&G Coal Corp. was upgrading a road for coal-haul trucks.A&G is a contractor for Matt Mining Inc., which holds the permit for the nearby Strip Mine No. 13, according to state officials.Last year, the mine produced about 1.3 million tons of coal and employed 120 workers, according to federal Mine Safety and Health Administration records.
On Friday, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy cited the companies for allowing debris to leave the permitted area and for pushing rock and dirt “down-slope” from the mining site.Mike Abbott, spokesman for the Virginia agency, said that the citations accused the company of “gross negligence.” Proposed fines have not yet been set, Abbott said.Abbott said that the agency also ordered the rest of a “debris field” the company created down the hill toward homes to be cleaned up and stabilized. A cessation order issued by state inspectors will temporarily halt the road construction and operations of the adjacent strip mine, Abbott said.
Company officials did not return phone messages Monday.Matt Mining was cited before, in October 2002, for placing mine waste down the hill from its permit area, according to an enforcement history released by Abbott.The company was also cited in October 2003 for disturbing a 14-acre area off its permit and twice this year — in May and July — for not giving nearby residents its blasting schedule, the summary showed.OSM officials received a complaint about the Matt Mining operation in April 2002.At the time, a resident complained that blasting from the operation “rocked [his] doublewide trailer.”OSM officials referred the resident to Virginia inspectors, who have primary authority to regulate strip mining in their state. OSM is supposed to make sure states do a good job.
In its most recent evaluation of Virginia regulators, OSM said that 90 percent of the mine sites inspected by Virginia in 2003 were “free of off-site impacts.”On Monday, Robert Penn, director of OSM’s field office in Big Stone Gap, Va., said his agency is going to leave the investigation of Davidson’s death to Virginia — at least for now. “We’re just on standby,” he said.
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