August 9, 2022 

Judge Upholds Most Charges Against Mine

A federal administrative law judge has upheld most of the federal Mining Safety and Health Administration citations issued against an Alleghany gold mine, but lowered fines levied against the operation.


Michael Miller, president and chief operating officer of the Original Sixteen-to-One Mine, said he will appeal, which could set up a review by a five-member panel of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.


Miller is acting as his own attorney.


"The administrative law judge was a very fair man," he said. "We got a fair treatment, we've got no complaints with how we were treated, but he was unfamiliar with hard-rock mining."


Miller said he is happy with the reduction of the proposed fines, but he is appealing to get all the citations thrown out. The mine employs 19 people.


In a decision issued Oct. 19, Administrative Law Judge Michael Zielinski threw out a citation claiming the mine was operated in violation of a shutdown order. He also reduced the proposed fines for nine citations from $3,797 to $1,030. Zielinski decided that a number of them were not "significant and substantial," as alleged by MSHA inspectors.


Zielinski reviewed and upheld nine of the 10 citations against the mine. It contested the civil citations during hearings last year in Downieville and Nevada City. Zielinski, a judge for the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission in Falls Church, Va., upheld citations for ladders with broken rungs in an escape route, for brush and grass growing near an explosives container, for not posting copies of citations, and other issues.


The MSHA had alleged the mine violated 26 health-and-safety standards. The federal regulators later dropped eight citations during the review process, and Miller withdrew his contest of eight citations, according to the decision. Zielinski ordered the mine to pay civil penalties of $569.


Miller accused the MSHA of conducting a "search-and-destroy" mission designed to overwhelm the mine, according to the law judge's written decision. Miller cited the fact that 83 citations were issued from 1985-97, and 85 citations from 1997-99, when the mine was one-10th the size it was during previous years. At one point, the mine was forced to shut down. "They forced a war upon us by taking away the ability to make a living," said Miller.


He issued subpoenas to federal mining officials to try and prove what he considered excessive and arbitrary enforcement actions, but the subpoenas were set aside, according to the decision.


John Dickey

Reporter for The Union


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