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County mine inspector candidates answer questions

An area of subsidence on a former mining site behind a fallen fence near an all-terrain vehicle trail south of Negaunee is shown. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third story in a four-part series about former mine properties, legislation surrounding their safety and the responsibilities of the county mine inspectors and property owners in Michigan.

MARQUETTE — A four-year term as Marquette County mine inspector is up for grabs in November. Three Democratic candidates appear on the Aug. 4 primary ballot in Marquette County. No Republican candidates appear on the ballot.

Each candidate was asked to answer four questions regarding how they would fulfill the duties of the position. Here are their answers:

Steve Bertucci

≤ Describe your background and why it makes you the best qualified person to hold the position of county mine inspector?  

I worked for CCI for 21 years. I started on the fencing crew in 1973, putting up fencing around caving grounds and old abandoned mines. I spent 5 1/2 years underground at the Mather B Mine. The next two years, I worked at the Tilden Mine in the concentrator pellet plant as a plant repairman. For the next 13 years, I worked at the Empire Mine in the concentrator, pellet plant and pit. While at the Empire Mine, I was a member of the safety committee, checking for any violations of unsafe conditions.

≤ Describe the most important aspect of the job of county mine inspector, and why?

The most important aspect is the safety of the employees on the surface and underground, and the people of Marquette County. Duties of the mine inspector are to check all the fences around caving grounds and abandoned mines to make sure they’re in good condition. All active mines have to be checked for safety violations as well as sand and gravel pits. All these inspections must be done to insure the safety of all.

≤ Since the voters would effectively be your boss, how do you plan to hold yourself accountable? How will you keep records of inspections and violations?

I will keep all records of my visits to the active and abandoned mines. All caving grounds and pits will have to be inspected. If any safety violations are found, the proper company will be notified. My report will be given to the Marquette County commissioners.

≤ Education about mining and abandoned mines is a part of the job description of county mine inspector. How do you see yourself educating the public?

I would like to visit the area schools to inform the students of the danger and risk involved with cutting fences and going around the pits and caving grounds. I want to inform the public of the potential danger of old shafts and buildings. I will make sure the proper danger signs are in place.

John A. Hamel

≤ Describe your background and why it makes you the best qualified person to hold the position of county mine inspector?  

I would be the best choice for Marquette County mine inspector due to the fact that I have the best overall knowledge of the mining industry. I have an associate’s degree in industrial technology from Northern Michigan University. My experience in mining is 3.5 years underground sinking inclined shaft 3,000-foot Republic Mine, very similar to the shaft at Eagle Mine. Operated equipment in pit for four years, welder for 12 years, maintenance mechanic for two years, electrician for nine years in the pits and plants of Republic, Tilden and Empire mines. I then became a millwright and worked at Eagle Mine and their processing plant in Humboldt. With my past experience, I can inspect these running mines, electrical systems, mechanical systems and structural integrity of plants and pits, also the general safety condition of the underground mines. As past owner of an excavating business, I had a reputation for getting the job done right and on time. Also for keeping my part of the deal that was promised by me.

≤ Describe the most important aspect of the job of county mine inspector, and why?

The most important aspect of the job of county mine inspector would be to keep abandoned pits and shafts safe from the public, also keeping running mines in safe condition. By doing this, my top priority of keeping the public and working people safe would be accomplished. To accomplish this, all fencing around abandoned mine pits will be inspected and repaired. Also make sure all shafts are capped off properly and all safety warning signs are in place. I would also double-check the existing inventory of abandoned mines and quarries. Making sure I get a GPS reading on all, to make the job more efficient. These records should not be open to the general public, in that it would spark interest for people to go exploring and get hurt. I would allow some of the information to be shared should a special situation arise.

≤ Since the voters would effectively be your boss, how do you plan to hold yourself accountable? How will you keep records of inspections and violations?

My records of inspections and violations would be kept on and backed up on my computer. When looking at barriers, I will be taking pictures of places that need repair and documenting them on my phone. I also would make sure when a running mine is shut down permanently that the proper steps be taken to make it safe. There will be timeframes set up to have repairs done and be reinspected. I will keep an open line of communication with the county commission and public.

≤ Education about mining and abandoned mines is a part of the job description of county mine inspector. How do you see yourself educating the public?

I would like to visit the area schools to inform the students of the danger and risk involved with cutting fences and going around the pits and caving grounds. I want to inform the public of the potential danger of old shafts and buildings. I will make sure the proper danger signs are in place. I will educate kids in school about dangers of abandoned mines. The general public will also be informed about the dangers of abandoned mines.

Allan Koski

≤ Describe your background and why it makes you the best qualified person to hold the position of county mine inspector?

I encourage everyone to vote their heart in this election. Protecting the lives of our children and our local miners is not a partisan issue.

I am a graduate mining engineer from Michigan Tech with over 40 years of experience at the Empire, Tilden and Republic mines. I began as a general laborer at the Empire Mine and worked summers at the mines while attending college. My first position with Cleveland-Cliffs was shift supervisor at the Republic Mine. From there I progressed to various assignments that broadened my knowledge of mining, eventually retiring as senior staff engineer at the Empire and Tilden mines.

My experience includes all phases of mining including mine planning, mine operations, drilling and blasting, health, safety, environmental, mine reclamation, project engineering, facilitating and leading teams. I have taken courses that include the U.S. Environmental Regulatory Framework and Planning and Design for Mine Closure. I developed good working relationships with management and union leadership and worked collaboratively with regulatory agencies such as the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Mine Safety and Health Administration; the Michigan Department of Natural Resources; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. As mine inspector I will provide leadership and interact with others in ways that enhance understanding and respect, while developing effective relationships.

I currently serve Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as an appointee to the board at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum, representing Michigan’s mineral industry, something that I have done for over 20 years having been previously appointed by Govs. Jennifer Granholm and John Engler. I know the mines of Marquette County and am currently co-authoring a book on the history of the Empire Mine. I understand the importance of mine safety (as both my great-grandfather and his brother were killed in Negaunee mines).

≤ Describe the most important aspect of the job of county mine inspector, and why?

The highest priority of the office of mine inspector is the safety of the miners working in the local mines and quarries and the safety of the public, especially children, with over 200 abandoned open pits, shafts and excavations throughout the county. Currently, there are water-filled pits and shafts that either lack adequate fencing or have damaged or vandalized fencing, which is mandated by state law.

I will create a list of the 25-30 most dangerous shafts and pits, including the names of surface and mineral owners, that need attention. I will submit the list to the county board and ask for their input. Proper fencing and signage can be expensive. Expense means nothing if it can save one life. I will meet with the owners to develop responsible solutions. Lacking cooperation, enforcement remains the final option.

I will collaborate with Northern Michigan University’s Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences Department to develop an online map that’s easily accessible to every county resident, pinpointing every abandoned and active mine in the county. County residents have a right to know whether abandoned mines exist in their neighborhoods.

Michigan law states that active mines will be inspected once every 60 days and I will comply.

≤ Since the voters would effectively be your boss, how do you plan to hold yourself accountable? How will you keep records of inspections and violations?

I will formalize electronic record keeping in the inspector’s office. This system will preserve records permanently and make the transition from one inspector to the next easier. Each abandoned mine inspection will be documented to include a checklist of items, such as proper signage, proper fencing, new subsidence or erosion and evidence of trespassing. Inspections of active mines will be similarly documented. Inspection records will be summarized and submitted to the county board. I will provide regular updates of my work with appearances at county board meetings, either as an agenda item or part of the public comment at the beginning and end of the meetings.

My plans are ambitious. Michigan statutes allow the mine inspector to appoint up to three deputy inspectors for the purpose of discharging the duties of the office. All deputy inspectors are under the supervision of the mine inspector and their duties prescribed by him.

I will need a few knowledgeable men or women volunteers with good communication skills to assist and accompany me. This provides a succession plan for the next inspector. In the unlikely event I am run over by a bus, there will be someone to step in without skipping a heartbeat.

≤ Education about mining and abandoned mines is a part of the job description of county mine inspector. How do you see yourself educating the public?

Activity in caving areas needs to be addressed. The most serious issue is children exploring abandoned mines, unaware of the hazards. Adults are equally responsible. I will schedule a town hall in Negaunee to listen and understand. Why? Not that long ago, Aaron Boersma, 16, of Caspian lowered himself into a mine pit with a rope tied to a tree and drowned in the water.

I will develop a public awareness campaign working with the county board. I will be available to speak to organizations and schools. When it existed, I taught a week-long course about mining for three years in the four west end school districts’ summer Gifted and Talented program. When Cleveland-Cliffs began the Partnerships in Education program, I presented in approximately 50 public school classrooms. I have presented to the Future Historians at the Iron Industry Museum. Within the past year, I presented to two groups at NMU on the topic of mine reclamation. I am comfortable speaking with groups and will continue to do so.

I will have an “open-door” policy and be available to listen to the many diverse voices found in our wonderful county to appropriately address all questions and concerns related to mining.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.

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