(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 led to the disaster, federal regulators announced Wednesday.
For the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the settlement with Agapito Associates Inc. ends the long saga of the cave-in at Crandall Canyon that killed nine miners and rescuers.
The operator of the mine, Genwal Resources Inc., paid a $949,000 settlement to federal regulators for safety violations about a year ago. Months earlier, Genwal 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 a coal barrier that should have been left standing to hold up the mine.
The Grand Junction, Colo.-based Agapito was cited for "high negligence" for approving the "flawed" mining plan.
"The actions we've taken since the disaster have really benefited mine safety," MSHA chief Joe Main said Wednesday. "That's one of the things that really came out of this."
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.
"When something this bad happens, everybody looks to improve," Stricklin said. "We are scrutinizing plans closer. We run our own calculations, and in mines that have deep cover, we send the plans to our technical support center and see if our engineers agree to retreat mining," which involves grabbing the coal of supporting pillars while backing out of an underground mine. The American Society of Safety Engineers says it requires precise planning and sequencing to ensure roof stability.
From the start, Murray Energy Corp. chief Bob Murray insisted that the cave-in at Crandall Canyon was triggered by a natural earthquake, and that no retreat mining was taking place. Federal officials disagreed.
Ohio-based Murray Energy owns Genwal Resources Inc. through a series of subsidiaries.
The collapse Aug. 6, 2007, was so powerful it registered as a 3.9-magnitude earthquake. It entombed six miners nearly a half-mile underground. Their bodies were never recovered. Another cave-in 10 days later killed two rescuers and a federal inspector trying to tunnel their way to the trapped miners.
The victims' families will "feel bad for the rest of their lives," Main said. "What we have to do is take action for safety, and prevent it from recurring."
In a lengthy report issued a year after the collapse, MSHA said the Crandall Canyon was "destined to fail" because of instability problems. But MSHA itself was lambasted by its parent agency, the Department of Labor, for lax oversight and its handling of the fatal rescue effort. Six people on the rescue team were grievously injured, in addition to the three who were killed.
Agapito President and Chairman Michael P. Hardy didn't return a message Wednesday seeking comment from The Associated Press.