Kaiser hearings may be put on hold

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 19, 1999

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / September 19, 1999

CONVENT – The Kaiser Aluminum hearings continued this week, including a “compelling” account of the explosion. However, the hearings could beplaced on hold until further notice, depending on the outcome of a federal court ruling that was expected Friday.

The hearings on the July 5 Kaiser Aluminum plant explosion were shaken when several subpoenaed Kaiser management witnesses failed to appear, and hearings expected to last at least two weeks could now take “six weeks or six months,” according to the panel chairman Tony Oppegard.

Kaiser supervisor Dennis Haas did testify Wednesday afternoon, followed by Wayne Robins on Thursday, a replacement worker injured in the explosion who gave a minute-by-minute account of the events that morning.

Friday’s hearing heard only from Earl Veal, a replacement worker on the job as control room operator for the power plant at the time of the blast.

The power plant has been mentioned as a possible source of the over- pressurization which caused the explosion.

Veal’s testimony, however, lasted only an hour before the panel recessed at 9:45 a.m. to await the federal court hearing.”We could reconvene on Tuesday at 1 p.m. or some time in the future,”Rodney Brown of the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) public affairs office said.

The MSHA panel began hearing witnesses on Sept. 8. MSHA, has filed in U.S.District Court to compel Kaiser witnesses to appear.

Kaiser Aluminum and supervisor Terry Denova filed in the Fifth District U.S. District Court in New Orleans on Sept. 3 for a court shield againsttestifying or providing company documents or records.

MSHA Assistant District Manager Lee Ratliff has affirmed the purpose of the hearings is only to find out what happened and, if federal safety violations were committed, Kaiser could face fines of up to $55,000 per violation.

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