A public hearing on the Sago Mine disaster has been tentatively scheduled to start March 14, state officials confirmed Thursday.The hearing will be held on the West Virginia Wesleyan College campus in Buckhannon, and could last more than a week.Exact times and the specific location on campus have not yet been finalized, said Caryn Gresham, a spokeswoman for the West Virginia Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training.“They probably will go through that week, and if they need to be continued the following week, they will be,” Gresham said.The format of the hearing also is still being finalized, officials said.Gov. Joe Manchin promised the public hearing when he appointed longtime mine-safety advocate J. Davitt McAteer to coordinate the state’s investigation of the Sago disaster.
Manchin is expected to attend at least the first part of the hearing, spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said Thursday.Twelve miners died and another was critically injured as a result of the Jan. 2 explosion at the International Coal Group operation south of Buckhannon.The Sago blast is the worst mining disaster in West Virginia in nearly 40 years.Manchin also has promised to hold a public hearing on the Jan. 19 fire that killed two miners at Massey Energy’s Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine at Melville, Logan County. That hearing has not yet been scheduled.The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has agreed to take part in the state’s hearings. But MSHA has not invoked a section of federal law that allows it to conduct all investigation interviews during a public hearing.In the Sago and Aracoma accidents, interviews have continued to take place behind closed doors. Earlier this week, widows of several Sago miners criticized what they said is the secretive nature of the investigation.To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.