Quarry owner agrees to allow inspections

Posted Dec. 08, 2010, at 9:22 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:54 a.m.

SULLIVAN, Maine — A local man has agreed in federal court not to resume operations at his quarry until he has completed all the safety improvements federal officials have mandated for his property.

Conrad Smith, owner of Sullivan Granite Co. and Brown’s Meadow Quarry off Track Road, is being sued by the U.S. Department of Labor for alleged safety violations at the quarry and for refusing to allow federal mining inspectors onto the property.

The agreement, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Bangor, also calls for Smith to allow such inspections to proceed. Smith and a U.S. Department of Labor attorney signed the agreement after an injunction hearing held Tuesday morning in Bangor.

On Dec. 3, Smith had filed a response to the original U.S. Department of Labor complaint accusing federal officials of acting out of spite by fining him and taking him to court.

In his response, Smith also questioned whether USDOL’s Mine Safety and Health Administration has jurisdiction over his operation. He claimed that the federal mine act does not apply to his quarry operation, because it is not a mine.

Smith wrote in the document that MSHA inspectors were motivated by “revenge.” He said one of the inspectors had acted unprofessionally by using foul language and that, after Smith and his father, Eastbrook resident Stephen S. Smith, complained about it, the investigators decided to retaliate.

“They can’t come in like gangbusters and write citation after citation out of revenge as much as saying ‘we’ll teach these guys to mess with us,’” Smith wrote in his response.

John Chavez, spokesman for U.S. Department of Labor’s regional Boston office, said Tuesday morning that Smith’s accusations are “unfounded.” The only objective of the MSHA is to ensure safety regulations are met at mines and quarries, he said.

“We’re concerned about safety and health, not about revenge,” Chavez said. “Mr. Smith’s refusal to allow entry to MSHA inspectors is what started all this.”

Smith said Wednesday that he agreed Tuesday in court to fix the outstanding safety violations, because that has been his intent all along. He said his belief that MSHA does not have jurisdiction over his quarry and that the agency’s inspectors are motivated by revenge did not come up during Tuesday’s hearing.

He is unsure, however, how he is going to get the money to correct the violations and pay assessed fines.

“I’d like to get back to work,” Smith said. “I’m looking for work right now. I don’t have a job.”

Smith has said he is representing himself in the matter, with help from his father, because he cannot afford to hire an attorney. He said he would like to resume quarrying by next spring, when the weather warms up.

Federal mining officials have been conducting inspections at Smith’s quarry since July 2009 and claim that Smith has been using substandard equipment and following improper procedures in operating the quarry.

Among the alleged safety violations were a lack of safety chains or suitable locking devices on high-pressure air lines; a lack of railings or warning signs in certain locations in the quarry; unlabeled power switches; and unsecured oxygen tanks, according to the complaint. Inspectors also cited several defects with a generator and a crane Smith has been using at the quarry, among other things.

Federal officials claim in the document that the alleged conditions are violations of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977. They also claim that Smith has been resistant to the inspections and refused to allow inspectors access to the quarry.

Smith said Wednesday he is discouraged that it will cost money for him to be able to make improvements. He said he had been fined $36,000 for the alleged violations, including $2,000 for a trash bag with beer cans in it that was left at his quarry and another $2,000 for running an extension power cord across the quarry driveway.

He has not been able to pay the fines, much less for the repairs he has been told he has to make to resume quarrying. He said replacing a chain on his crane cost him $500. He also has been told he needs to get a new hook for the crane, which he estimated also will cost $500.

On Monday, before signing the agreement, Smith said he had been resistant to inspections of the quarry, because he was worried the inspections would cost him his livelihood, and perhaps the property itself. He said he “felt like a cornered animal” when inspectors showed up for surprise inspections.

“If you want a comment from me, all you have to put [in the article] is ‘extortion’ with an exclamation point at the end of it,” Smith said. “It’s a huge money racket.”

In their complaint against Smith, federal inspectors say they placed tags on certain pieces of equipment at the quarry marking them as not compliant with safety regulations. But inspectors said Smith subsequently burned the tags off and, in some cases, continued to use unsafe equipment. Smith generally was unreceptive to the visits and more than once ordered inspectors off the property, the officials said.

Smith said he has gotten conflicting instructions over the years from different inspectors. He said he has tried to be reasonable and to comply with safety rules.

“I’ve tried to comply the whole time,” he said. “I’ve done my best to keep this boat afloat.”

To read the original USDOL complaint, go online to: http://bdn.to/28cs

Smith’s response: http://bdn.to/28ct

And the agreement: http://bdn.to/28cu

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