The War Against Us [Coeur d’Alene silver region] – by David Bond ( – January 16, 2012)

This commentary is by editor David Bond

Wallace, Idaho – Just when was it that the United Snakes of America declared war on the Coeur d’Alene Mining District, and why?

We were ruminating, fulminating on these weighty questions last week. Pretty clearly, the opening salvo was fired in the final decade of the 19th Century, when Federal troops were dispatched under a declaration of martial law to lock up 600 miners here who were striking for decent wages.

Then of course during World War II there was the undeclared conscription of lead and zinc miners here who were prevented from taking better paying jobs in the shipyards of Puget Sound to keep wresting rocks from our earth that could be smelted into bullets and cartridges to kill Germans and Japanese.

For that trouble, we were rewarded, in 1984, by being declared a federal Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and we have been struggling under the EPA’s yoke ever since – as have some 70 mining companies who produced bullet-makings for the government in the 1940s, most of them mom-and-pop operations. Or was it in 1991, when agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation swooped down upon us, shutting down our card games and seizing our slot machines, in their assault on our laissez-faire way of life?

Was it just last year, when the US EPA sweated a $200 million settlement out of Hecla Mining Co. for alleged “environmental damages” for having the temerity to mine silver, lead and zinc in the Silver Valley? (That amount, ironically, is about what Hecla intends to spend extending the life of the Lucky Friday by some 30 years.)

Or was it just last week, when the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration shuttered the Lucky Friday mine for up to a year on an utterly vacuous claim that is main vertical access way, the Silver Shaft, had miraculously become unsafe – overnight? This is the same MSHA that inspects the shaft every three months, most recently a month ago. What changed in 30 days to render the Silver Shaft unserviceable? According to MSHA, 30 years’ accumulation of crud leaking from sand lines that have built up along the mile-deep, 18-foot cylindrical shaft’s concrete liner.

This is federal government arrogance at its height. It is brazen and it reeks of ass-covering. It is also ineptitude at its height, to the detriment of some 200 Hecla Mining Co. employees and a like number of Cementation Corp. contract workers who were at work sinking the new No. 4 Shaft internal winze. As of late last week, Hecla miners were barred by MSHA even from maintaining the critical pumps to keep water out of the lower workings of the Lucky Friday, where most of the machinery is. The 4 Shaft is collared on the 4,900-foot level and most of the current ore hauling was being done on the 5,900-level to the Silver Shaft.

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