ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director James Zehringer announced Thursday at 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 renovate 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, D-Steubenville, and state Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, spoke to 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 life0saving mine safety training to Ohio's miners. This training helps to ensure 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.
Zehringer received a round of applause when he announced the ODNR secured $2 million in funding to build the new center. The funding was included in the capital budget passed by the state Legislature and recently signed by Gov. Kasich.
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 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.
"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.
"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."
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 said.
"We know how dangerous coal mining is," Cera said, noting 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.
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.
"When we were formed safety was the most important issue for miners. Union or non-union, we are all miners, safety is a partnership with all of us," he said.
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 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.