Mining Tragedy
9:22 am
Tue July 29, 2014

Penalties On Idaho Mine Still Unpaid Three Years After Miner's Death

It's been more than three years since a tunnel collapse at a north Idaho silver mine killed miner Larry Marek. Yet federal records show a series of federal penalties issued to the mine's owners still have not been paid.

In 2011, federal inspectors determined the Hecla Mining Company violated rules meant to prevent collapse at the Lucky Friday Mine. The inspectors issued four citations directly related to Larry Marek’s death with federal fines that totaled almost $360,000.

To this day, those fines remain unpaid.

Ed Havas represents the Marek family in a lawsuit against the mining company. He says there’s more than money at stake here.

“If the company were to just say, 'Yeah, OK, we did that. We'll pay the fine,' just simply accepting it and paying it is basically an admission of wrongdoing and that admission can be used in subsequent proceedings,” Havas said.

That could include determining negligence in a civil lawsuit.

In some cases, Havas says, mining companies will pay the fine, but with a legal agreement that they don't admit to wrongdoing.

An administrative law judge is set to hear Hecla's case against the citations in November.

The citations related to Marek's death are not the only fines from 2011 that remain in bureaucratic limbo. Hecla is also contesting tens of thousands of dollars in fines the Mine Safety and Health Administration issued after a partial collapse injured seven miners in December. Those citations are also headed for a hearing.

Separately, four of the injured miners are suing the company.

Following that accident, the Lucky Friday Mine shut down for a year while Hecla made major safety upgrades mandated by MSHA.

Hecla declined to comment for this story.