July 18, 2014
A sand and gravel mine in North Dakota has found itself in a heap of trouble with the U.S. Department of Labor. The agency has filed a lawsuit against the Jamestown-based Northern Excavating Co. for denying federal officials entry to the mine site three times since May.
According to court documents the Mine Safety and Health Administration has received several complaints alleging violations, including the failure to provide adequate protective equipment for workers.
MSHA spokesman Jesse Lawder said the complaints were filed by employees of the mine.
“The complaints were not insignificant,” Lawder said. “There may be other problems but we wouldn’t know until we get in there.”
Although these types of complaints are very rare, they are taken very seriously when received. An agency inspector was turned away at the site shortly after the initial complaint. The agency is not required to have a warrant to do inspections, but they can’t force their way in either.
Lawder claims they were refused entry and the mine site had their gate locked.
The next day an inspector returned to the site and issued an order to halt operations. Again, the mine was locked and nobody was present. In early June an inspector returned for the third time, but was once again denied entry by an employee and it was clear that the company didn’t comply with the order.
“The mine was operating and it was clear to the inspector that some work had gone on during the time of the shutdown order,” Lawder said.
U.S. Marshals will get involved soon if a judge agrees that Northern Excavating Co. is indeed violating federal law by forbidding access.
“All we are trying to do is to conduct an inspection,” Lawder said. “Nothing likely will happen until it’s decided by a judge. If we are denied entry again, we would enlist the help of U.S. Marshals to accompany us to the site.”
No exact timetable is known for the decision, but it is expected to come sooner rather than later.