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Jerritt Canyon

The lights from a vehicle are seen as it drives into the Lee Smith Mine at Jerritt Canyon in this December 2015 photo.

ELKO – Small Mine Development LLC has resumed mining at Jerritt Canyon Gold’s Lee Smith underground mine north of Elko after operations were halted following a fatality on Oct. 25, but SMD is still awaiting word from inspectors to return to full operations.

U.S Mine Safety and Health Administration ordered the halt after Jason Holman, 42, of Goshen, Utah, died in a fall of ground. The agency partially lifted the order in two segments in December.

“We hope the order will be fully lifted soon, but we are waiting to hear back from the agency,” Keith Jones of SMD said Jan. 8. “We hope to have all employees back to work once the full 103(K) order is lifted.”

Miners at Lee Smith were furloughed during the full shutdown, but a portion of them were allowed back Dec. 3 to do rehabilitation bolting and shotcreting, and MSHA allowed mining and backfilling beginning Dec. 17.

“As the order was modified to allow mining to resume, additional employees have been brought back,” Jones said. “Full-scale operation is roughly 80 employees. We are at approximately 50 employees as of last week.”

Idaho-based SMD is a mining contractor operating Lee Smith Mine roughly 50 miles from Elko for Jerritt Canyon Gold, a Toronto-based private company.

MSHA has the authority to stop operations at the site and related sites when there is a fatality or serious injury. In the Lee Smith case, which involved cemented rockfill, the order was imposed on all underground headings that had cemented backfill.

“This effectively shut down the entire mine while investigation and evaluation by MSHA and MSHA technical support was ongoing,” Jones said in an email.

MSHA is still investigating the fatality, but the preliminary report states that “a miner died when the back/roof fell while loading explosives in the face. The back, which was comprised of cemented backfill, weighed approximately 150 tons. A portion of this cemented backfill, weighing approximately 5 tons, landed on top of the miner.”

Teri Williams, public information officer for the Nevada Department of Business and Industry said on Jan. 9 that the “state investigation remains open and ongoing.” State mine safety investigators are working with MSHA.

Holman’s job was powderman, and he had 13 years of mining experience, according to the MSHA report.

Holman’s death was one of two mining fatalities in Nevada in 2018. The second death was that of Romney Natapu, 45. At Newmont Mining Corp.’s Pete Bajo underground gold mine north of Carlin in Eureka County. He died on Nov. 11 when he was run over by a loader he was operating, according to MSHA’s preliminary report on that accident.

MSHA confirmed Jan. 8 it is funded so operations continue during the partial shutdown of the federal government.

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