New training center planned

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director James Zehringer announced during a press conference at Belmont College that ODNR will build a new mine safety training center in eastern Ohio. ODNR received funding from the state to build a new facility or renovating an existing structure and is requesting proposals from community and business leaders suggesting potential locations for the new center.

The director along with State Sen. Lou Gentile and State Rep. for District 96 Jack Cera spoke to the representatives of the local mining industry and invited guests about the importance of maintaining a training center in the area.

“The ODNR has many missions but one of the most vital ones is public health and safety,” Zehringer said. “Ohio law requires that we provide life saving mine safety training to Ohio’s miners.”

“This training helps to insure that those miners who walk into the mines in the morning return home safely to their families at the end of each shift,” Zehringer emphasized. “This is an important task and one we take very seriously, it’s truly a matter of life and death.”

Zehringer received a round of applause when he announced that ODNR had secured two million dollars in funding to build the new center, this funding was included in the capital budget passed by the state legislature and recently signed by Gov. Kasich. “We are committed to the safety of Ohio miners, and this new mine safety training center will ensure our miners have a safe facility in which to train.”

When completed, the new mine training center will include a simulated underground room and pillar coal mine, training rooms and space to hold federally required mine safety competitions.

“The obvious next question is, where will the new facility be located,” Zehringer said. “We have not made the decision yet because we want the input from those who are most affected. Ohio miners, the officials and organizations that represent them.

ODNR requests proposals for potential locations for the new center be submitted to the Department by Tuesday, July 15. ODNR is looking for approximately 10-15 acres with enough space for a building to house classrooms, the new mine simulator and ample level terrain to hold mine safety competitions.

Proposal evaluation will be based on: location, accessibility, cost, available utilities and development costs.

“This facility must be located in this immediate area because it will hold the mine rescue team equipment which by law must be located within certain distance of the mines that it covers.” Zehringer explained. This also make sense because Harrison county has the largest number of mines and Belmont County has the largest number of miners.”

“This will be an open and transparent process and we want to hear from everyone in this room,” Zehringer presented a list of the guidelines for protocol. “These are exciting times for this whole region.”

The director introduced Sen. Gentile and Rep. Cera stating that they were instrumental in making the announcement possible.

“When we learned last fall of some of the issues that arose with the former training center, we went to work right away to maintain a training facility for our miners,” Gentile said. “I am proud that I had the opportunity to vote in favor of the capital bill which provided the funding for this future site.”

“I want to recognize the local officials in Harrison County,” Gentile acknowledged Harrison County Commissioner Dale Norris and Babe Erdos from the United Mine Workers Association. “We felt very strongly, very passionately about the need to continue to have a mine safety training center, state of the art facility, located in the heart of coal country.”

Gentile emphasized the economic benefits to the area from the training center. The Senator also thanked the director and the department for listening to the requests from local representatives, “who care very deeply about the health and safety of our miners.”

Rep. Cera took the podium thanking Zehringer and Lanny Erdos, Chief of the ODNR Division of Mineral Resources for coming down to the area from Columbus to make the announcement and applauded their effort to maintain coal miner safety in the state.

“We know how dangerous coal mining is,” Cera explained that the first bill he introduced as a legislator was a mine safety bill. “We have a history in this area where we have had fatalities and terrible tragedies, so we know the importance of mine safety.”

“Senator Gentile had been the voice of this effort from the beginning and I commend him for the hard work that he has done,” Cera said. “Along with the ODNR, which has made sure this has moved in the right direction, I think he deserves a great deal of gratitude. I know he was very strong and determined that we were going to keep a mine training center in Eastern Ohio.”

Babe Erdos is a third generation mine worker and an International Representative for the UMWA. He spoke to the crowd about the union which was formed in Columbus Ohio,

“When we were formed safety was the most important issue for miners.” Babe explained he also felt a training facility was crucial to maintain a safe working environment. “Union or non-union, we are all miners, safety is a partnership with all of us.”

Bill Alloway, safety Director at Oxford Mining, spoke adding his thanks for the ODNR’s dedication to mine safety. He told the director that the miners always felt very comfortable at the Cadiz training center because it was staffed with actual miners. “The facility is an economic and safety benefit for coal mine operators because you can shut down a shift and have all your personnel attend at the same time, this prevents people who are not familiar with certain jobs at the mine from putting themselves in danger when just a few miners are attending classes.”

“I think is a great example of how local leadership responded to a real need in the community,” Gentile said after the meeting concluded. “Last fall, county officials in Harrison County, my office and United Mine Workers came together to express our deep desire to see the mine safety training center remain in coal country.”

“We expressed that to the ODNR publicly and I believe the state and the ODNR listened and the director to his credit sought the funding to make this a reality.” the Senator concluded. “I am grateful to be a part of this announcement today and look forward to the next phase and as we reveal the details m hope is that we can keep the facility in Ohio’s 30th district in the heart of coal country.”

The complete list of guidelines and timetable are available on ODNR’s website or by calling the ODNR Office of Real Estate at 614-265-6382.

Until the new facility is built, mine safety training courses will continue to be held at ODNR’s current mine safety facility in Cadiz.

Palmer may be erached at mpalmer@tiemsleaderonline.com