SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An engineering firm held responsible for a Utah mine collapse that killed nine people in 2007 will pay a $100,000 penalty for a "high-negligence violation" of safety standards that contributed to the disaster, federal regulators announced Wednesday.
For the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the settlement with Agapito Associates Inc. ends the protracted saga surrounding the cave-ins at Crandall Canyon that killed nine miners and rescuers.
The operator of the mine, Genwal Resources Inc., paid a $949,000 civil settlement to federal regulators for safety violations about a year ago. Months earlier, Genwal had pleaded guilty in federal court in Salt Lake City to a pair of misdemeanors for violating safety standards. It was fined $500,000.
Regulators say Genwal thinned city block-size coal barriers that should have been left standing to keep the mine from collapsing under the weight of a 10,800-foot mountain.
The Grand Junction, Colo.-based Agapito was cited for "high negligence" for approving the "flawed" mining plan. No criminal charges were ever brought against Agapito, but it came under criticism in reports ordered by regulators.
In one case, a panel of experts determined, Agapito miscalculated depth covers that are fundamental to safety equations at underground mines. In another, the firm overstated the strength of support pillars by a factor of two.
Agapito officials said in court papers and interviews with The Associated Press on Wednesday that they offered sound advice to Genwal but were ignored by the mining company and regulators.
"We spent a lot of money, and there was no end in sight to this," Agapito President and Chairman Michael P. Hardy said Wednesday of the firm's battle with regulators. "So we agreed to a settlement."
MSHA chief Joe Main said a series of investigations into the Crandall Canyon disaster led to regulatory changes that improved coal mining across the country.
"That's one of the things that really came out of this," Main said.
U.S. coal mines went five years after the Utah disaster without a single fatality related to retreat mining, said Kevin Stricklin, administer of coal mine safety for MSHA.
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