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September 28, 1999

Task Force To Help Plan The Future Of National Coal Museum

SPRINGFIELD - Governor George H. Ryan announced today that a 14-member task force composed of mining experts, organized labor, tourism and historic site consultants will tomorrow start an on-site evaluation of the safety, management and viability of the National Coal Museum in West Frankfort.

The Task Force, together, represents 168 years of mining experience. The team will begin its evaluation of the National Museum's mines on Wednesday, Sept. 29 at 9 AM. The team will begin the on-site portion of the work with an inspection of the underground areas of the former Old Ben Mine #25, which for the past several years has been open for public tours. The team will later evaluate the mine's surface areas, structures and records.

The team will work closely with the National Coal Museum's founder, Dr. Christopher Ledvina, and members of the Museum's staff.

"The concept of a National Coal Museum to preserve the history of coal mining and teach future generations about mining's heritage is a good idea. I think a museum of this kind should be located in Southern Illinois," Ryan said. "But I still have questions about this particular operation that must be sorted out. This team will work with Dr. Ledvina to help answer these questions. I cannot commit further state funding to this particular project without a complete evaluation by experts."

"I'm very pleased that Dr. Ledvina, experienced miners, members of the United Mine Workers, tourism experts, historians and others have agreed to work together on this important evaluation," the governor added.

Ryan met with Ledvina two weeks ago to discuss the future of the National Coal Museum. Ryan said any decision about further state involvement with the Museum would depend on an evaluation of the site's safety, the management of the facility and the potential viability of a coal museum in Southern Illinois as a tourist attraction.

Two years ago, the National Coal Museum was awarded a $52,000 state grant by the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs to enhance the property as a tourist attraction. However, the state money was never released because Museum officials failed to raise the required $52,000 "match" that is one indication of viability.

Museum officials also are behind by several months in payments to the Southeastern Illinois Electric Cooperative, a situation that must be resolved if the mine is to remain viable and safe for tourists.

Last week, the state Office of Mines and Minerals ordered Museum officials to pump water from areas of the mine by repairing or replacing a broken pump that keeps groundwater from building up behind a sealed-up portion of the mine that is not part of the public tour. The build up of water behind these seals is potentially dangerous to any person in the mine. Also, the Office of Mines and Minerals ordered Museum officials to immediately repair "loose top" conditions and inadequate roof support in three areas of the mine -- another potentially dangerous situation.

For several months, the Office of Mines and Minerals has documented these safety concerns after undertaking inspections of Old Ben Mine #25.

The most recent order points out that previous warnings of potential problems have not been corrected by Museum officials.

Members of Task Force are divided into different areas of expertise:

Underground Evaluation Team

Richard Mottershaw, director, state Office of Mines and Minerals.
Bill Hoback, International Representative, United Mine Workers of America.
Jerry Odle, mine inspector, state Office of Mines and Minerals.
Larry Lewis, engineer, state Office of Mines and Minerals.
Ron Morse, regional coordinator, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Jeffrey T. Padgett, private consulting engineer and roof control specialist.

Surface Evaluation Team

Kim Underwood, manager, Land Reclamation Division, Office of Mines and Minerals.
Don Pflederer, supervisor of operations, Land Reclamation Division, Office of Mines and Minerals.
Darin Martin, inspector, Land Reclamation Division, Office of Mines and Minerals.
Bill Ryan, manager of field operations for mine pollution control, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Audit Team

Nancy Hilgren, chief internal auditor, state department of Commerce and Community Affairs.
John Moore, manager of coal development and marketing, state Department of Commerce and Community Affairs.
Dave Baker, energy and environmental assessment consultant, Office of Realty and Environmental Planning.

In addition, Keith Herron, assistant superintendent, Division of Historic Sites, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, will serve as member of the underground and surface evaluation teams.

Ryan has asked the Task Force to finish its evaluation report as quickly as possible and report its findings and recommendations to him.


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