Underground mining program shut down

Underground mining program shut down

The Underground Mining Training Center at Montana Tech has closed after running out of cash.

The program, funded with a $1.6 million federal grant, graduated 33 students before shutting down last April, said Pete Knudsen, dean of the school of mines at Montana Tech.

The grant was approved in 2001 with the backing of U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and was administered through the Department of Labor.

The grant targeted displaced workers in Montana, many of whom came from the logging industry. Its goal was to provide would-be miners 15 weeks of training to give them an advantage when job hunting.

Training actually started in 2003 after the grant was received and guidelines were hammered out. Along with the federal money, the Stillwater mine contributed to the program by paying for miners’ physicals.

Further efforts to keep the program alive by securing more money, either through the government or mining companies, were unsuccessful, Knudsen said. ”It was a very expensive program,” Knudsen added.

The center operated sites at the Lexington Mine as well as a site at the World Museum of Mining. But Knudsen said site renovation, equipment and intensive instruction were costly.

He added that, although the program graduated 33 miners, more students enrolled in the program but did not complete it. Of the 33 who graduated, 32 found employment in the mining industry.

”Mining is expensive, and it is expensive to train people,” Knudsen said.

He pointed out that the Lexington site became cost-prohibitive, so the program switched to the World Museum of Mining to help save money.

He said the center retained equipment and infrastructure to pick the program back up if funding is secured.

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