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Local coal company admits to violating Federal Mine Safety and Health Act

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A Kingsport-based coal company has pleaded guilty to violating the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act.

Mill Branch Coal admitted to providing advance notice of mine safety inspections. The company paid $260,538 in fines and was placed on probation for two years.

Prosecutors said from January to June of 2015, employees at the Dorchester mine in Wise County used an underground texting system to give employees advance notice that safety inspectors were on premises.

The employees also gave advance notice when state inspectors were on-site.

When evidence of the activity was uncovered in June 2015, both the company and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) conducted investigations. The company terminated employees and took actions to prevent the activity from occurring in the future.

"MSHA believes that mine inspections should be conducted when mines are operating under actual working conditions. The agency appreciates Mill Branch's swift, remedial action to address this problem," said Patricia W. Silvey, deputy assistant secretary for MSHA.

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