Otter listens to Silver Valley's concerns on Lucky Friday shutdown

Published On: Jan 23 2012 06:08:10 AM PST   Updated On: Jan 24 2012 10:39:20 AM PST
WALLACE, Idaho -

Idaho Governor Butch Otter expressed his frustration over the temporary shut down of the Lucky Friday mine by calling it unfair during a meeting with concerned residents in Wallace Monday.

The closure of Hecla's mine has sent a ripple of concern through the Silver Valley. Hecla is a major employer in the area, and on Monday afternoon people filled the Wallace Inn to voice their concerns to Governor Butch Otter about the mine being closed until 2013.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration ordered the closure after federal safety inspectors determined material had to be cleared out of the main silver shaft. At the meeting with the governor people questioned MSHA and how it came about its decision to shut Lucky Friday down.

Some stood and said what changes they want to see, like reinstating an Idaho mine inspector. One of the outcomes of the meeting with Silver Valley residents was Governor Otter promising to request MSHA to come to the Silver Valley and talk to the community in person.

"I think they have a responsibility to come back and explain why they are prepared to have this huge economic disaster in the Silver Valley," Governor Otter said.

The closure means a workforce reduction of 185 Hecla employees and 50 to 100 contract workers. The Idaho Department of Labor is projecting approximately $27 Million in lost wages, both directly and indirectly from the mine being shut down.

Doug Zigler, who owns a pub in Kellogg, says he's already feeling the pinch.

"What we are seeing is a lot less spending, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of people that just don't know what's going to go on," he said.

The state department of labor said a lot of miners don't want to switch fields so they're offering relocation assistance. The trend has been miners leaving town, but families staying behind since they are expecting the closure to be temporary.

So far 173 have filed for unemployment insurance.

Hecla hopes those laid off will be able to return to work in the mine when Lucky Friday reopens in 2013.