Citations in Controversial Retreat Mining Collapse on Black Mountain

Kentucky officials issued seven citations in connection with a mine cave in on Black Mountain that killed two miners on Aug. 3.

The collapse should provide a reminder to hikers visiting the state highpoint which is on top of a privately owned coal mine that they are required to sign a waive in order to legally visit it.

Stillhouse Mining was charged with six citations of failure to follow an approved roof control plan and one alleges inadequate training.

The cave-in killed Brandon Wilder, 23, and Russell Cole, 39, both of Letcher County.

The deaths focused attention on so-called retreat mining, a practice that has been blamed for the deaths of 17 coal miners in the past seven years. In retreat mining, portions of coal pillars, which hold the mine roof up, are removed. In underground coal mining, crews first do what’s called advance mining, digging into the mountain to remove coal. In that process, about 30 to 40 percent of the coal is removed by cutting a maze of 20-foot-wide tunnels through it. Coal pillars 25 to 100 feet across are left in place. The result is a network of tunnels that looks like the map of a city of crisscrossing streets with coal pillars as the blocks in between.

In Kentucky, 118 of 252 licensed underground coal mines have retreat operations, said Mark York, a spokesman for the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet.

Stillhouse Mining, LLC, operates an underground coal mine, known as Mine No. 1, in Harlan County, Kentucky. Stillhouse is owned by Black Mountain Resources, LLC, a division of Cumberland Resources, LLC. The mine has been in operation since 1999 and has two production shifts and one maintenance shift.

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