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Petition aims to keep mining alive in Utah

Miner’s wife collects 1,028 names in Carbon and Emery

SHARE Petition aims to keep mining alive in Utah

PRICE — Karen Basso first went to offices of coal mines in Carbon and Emery counties and spoke with miners.

Then she went door to door along streets in the counties, went into grocery stores and other businesses, asking people to sign her petition.

About 98 percent did sign, and she collected 1,028 names in two weeks, she told the Carbon County Commission on Wednesday. The petition's central message is: "In order to keep our communities alive and thriving, we must persuade our government not to close the (mine) portals forever, for without our mines there will be no Carbon and Emery counties, nor will there be electricity and other comforts for the world to enjoy."

On Wednesday afternoon, the Price resident presented the petitions to the Carbon County Commission during its semimonthly meeting. The names made up a significant proportion of the adults in the two counties, who numbered fewer than 25,000 in the 2000 Census.

"We're just basically saying we don't want our mines closed," she told the commissioners.

If unrealistic laws are passed, mining communities will suffer, she said.

After the meeting, she said a rumor is circulating that new rules could be imposed as a result of the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster to forbid mining more than a certain depth underground. Many mines here are deep — miners killed outright or trapped by the Aug. 6 accident were working 1,900 feet below the surface — and some residents fear that such restrictions would kill mining here.

Her husband, Sonny, was among more than 170 miners who were laid off in Murray Energy Corp. mines following the Aug. 6 disaster and a later mine "bump" that claimed the lives of three rescuers and wounded six others. Sonny Basso worked in the Tower Division mine, about seven miles north of here.

Karen Basso believes he will be back to work in about a month, after matters are sorted out.

The mine is owned by Murray Energy's UtahAmerican Energy, which acquired it in August 2006 from ANDALEX Resources. At the same time, the company acquired the Crandall Canyon Mine and other resources.

According to Karen Basso, her husband had much more intensive training after Murray took over. She said he learned many things he had not known before about the industry, and that he underwent regular training sessions.

She does not believe the retreat mining technique is to blame for the accidents. The technique, in which sections of a coal mine are allowed to collapse after operations are completed, has been used safely for a long time, she said. There might have been some peculiar situation involving this incident, Karen Basso added, but it was not because of retreat mining itself.

In a telephone interview, the Deseret Morning News asked Sonny Basso what he thinks of the chance that new mining restrictions will be imposed.

"It would depend on what the rules would be," he said. "If they're unrealistic, it would cut our profits so that the mine owners have got to shut their doors. Coal mining has got to be profitable."

Karen Basso said she wanted to make certain that the petition had the backing of those most involved, the miners themselves.

"I went to the coal mines first and talked to the miners and made sure they were fine with it before I handed it out," she said.

Commissioners said they had been in touch with members of the Utah congressional delegation, asking them to make certain that unreasonable restrictions aren't imposed.

"Retreat mining can be done safely," if planned carefully, said Commissioner Bill Krompel.

Inside the Huntington City Hall on Thursday, Mayor Hilary Gordon said she had heard the petition mentioned but had not seen it. She isn't worried that the mines will be closed forever, she said.

"They closed Tower (Mine), but I don't think it's a permanent closure. There needs to be some work done there, but at the same time I've heard about a new mine over at East Carbon."

That would be the proposed Lila Canyon Mine, she said.

"So I don't think that the governor or anybody is looking to close down the mines or take away this, what I call the big domino at the back of all the other dominoes. Because coal mining is our big domino, and we all know that. And I think the governor and all the regulators know that. ... They just want to make things as safe as possible."

It's like a highway with some glitches, she added. "We don't get rid of the road." Crews just widen it or do whatever other work is necessary to make it safer.

E-mail: bau@desnews.com