Quarry owner fighting $215,000 fines assessed for safety violations

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 18, 2011, at 11:21 a.m.

SULLIVAN, Maine — A man who has been taken to federal court over alleged safety violations at his rock quarry off Track Road has been fined $215,000 for those violations.

Conrad Smith, owner of Sullivan Granite Co. and Brown’s Meadow Quarry, said Monday that he is contesting the fines, which he called “frightening.”

“I believe it’s extortion,” Smith said.

At the end of November, the U.S. Department of Labor issued an assessment of fines to Smith for the list of alleged safety violations at his quarry.

Smith has been cited for 10 separate safety violations stemming from an inspection conducted June 10, 2010, by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, which is part of the Department of Labor. Each of those citations has resulted in a fine of $15,000 or more, totaling $207,800 for those 10 violations, according to the assessment.

Smith was fined an additional $112 for a Sept. 14, 2010, safety citation and owes an additional $7,859.50 that stems from penalties assessed in August 2010, September 2009 and September 2008, the assessment indicates. The grand total of the fines Smith is facing is $215,771.50.

Last month, federal officials got an injunction against Smith in federal court in Bangor that prohibits Smith from harvesting rock at the quarry until the mandated safety improvements are made.

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 court complaint that the alleged conditions are violations of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977.

Smith said Monday that he doesn’t know how he will be able to pay the fines or whether he will even be able to. He said he has fixed all the issues cited by MSHA officials but has not yet received clearance to resume cutting granite at the quarry. In the meantime, he said, he has been polishing small granite pieces to create belt buckles and looking for other work to help pay his bills.

“I thought it was substantial when it was $1,200,” Smith said of one of the smaller fines MSHA told him to pay in 2009. “I just want to go back to work.”

Smith said he is the only employee of his 5-year-old company, though friends often have helped him out. He said neither he nor anyone else has ever been injured at his quarry.

U.S. Department of Labor officials have said Smith only has to abate the safety violations in order to be able to resume his quarry operations. He does not have to pay off the fines before he can continue cutting granite.

John Chavez, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor’s regional office in Boston, said Smith has notified federal officials that he is contesting the fines. The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission is expected to go over the fines and Smith’s response to decide what the final penalties should be.

Chavez said that until all parties agree on how to end the matter, it is possible Smith could end up paying a different amount to satisfy the government claims.

“Until the fines are resolved, there is a chance they could be changed in some way,” Chavez said.

Smith said he has contacted MSHA officials to request that they inspect his quarry again to verify that he has made the mandated safety improvements, but Chavez declined to indicate if or when MSHA plans to reinspect the quarry. MSHA does not give advance notice of such inspections, Chavez said.

Smith said he enjoys his work and that he just wants to be able to support himself with the quarry. He said granite from his quarry has been used in projects in Castine and Harpswell and that he plans to build a house out of granite from his quarry.

Smith said he has plans to use sustainable forestry practices on his approximately 90-acre parcel and to try to keep his operations there as environmentally friendly as possible. The area where he has cut stone out of the ground is about the same size as a house foundation, he said.

“It’s a spiritual quest, almost,” Smith said of his quarrying efforts. “I started with nothing, and [MSHA] wants to crush me. It’s like fighting a huge monster that needs to be fed.”

He said he has written a seven-page letter asking for help with his situation that he plans to send to elected state and federal officials.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/01/18/business/quarry-owner-fighting-215000-fines-assessed-for-safety-violations/ printed on September 21, 2014