Kaiser hearings back on

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 18, 1999

LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / October 18, 1999

GRAMERCY – Hearings by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administrationinto the July 5 explosion at Kaiser Aluminum resumed Tuesday, 12 days after a federal court ruled that MSHA was the correct agency to conduct those hearings.

Testimony was heard from an outside digestion employee at the plant, followed by four digestion control room workers, including one on duty at the time of the explosion.

MSHA hopes to conclude the hearings on Oct. 21.MSHA panel chairman Tony Oppegard observed, “The hearing will continue through next week, and we look forward to bringing this investigation to a timely conclusion.”The hearings were placed on hold Sept. 17 when a federal judge in NewOrleans ruled that MSHA, rather than the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was the relevant agency to examine safety concerns in the explosion’s wake, with the idea being to prevent such incidents in the future.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier upheld MSHA’s jurisdiction, especiallysince Kaiser has operated for more than 40 years under those rules in Gramercy. Kaiser appealed the decision to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court ofAppeals and, on Oct. 9, an emergency stay against resumption of the MSHAhearings was denied.

Oppegard continued, “It’s in the best interest of all concerned that MSHA accurately determine what caused this accident. We can use the lessonslearned here to prevent similar accidents in the future.”On the same day that federal district court ruling, Kaiser also announced a $20 million commitment toward rebuilding the facility.

Kaiser’s board of directors approved the spending of up to $20 million for the first phase of rebuilding the damaged portion of the company’s Gramercy alumina refinery.

The approved spending covers design engineering work, ordering of certain equipment having long lead-time for delivery and related activities such as demolition and site preparation.

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