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Coal Experts Say Collapse at Idle Kentucky Production Plant is Rare Occurrence



November 2, 2023 - One person is confirmed dead, and another is missing following a building collapse at an idled coal production plant in Martin County that trapped two workers Tuesday evening, according to the Martin County Sheriff’s Office.

Dr. Rick Honaker, a professor of Mining Engineering at the University of Kentucky, explains what an idle coal production plant means and how rare a situation like this is during the demolition phase.


Dr.Honaker says, as he understands, workers were getting ready to dismantle a prep plant from the top down.

So, an idle plant just means the plant is no longer in use and in this plant’s case, has not been used in quite some time.

Dr. Honaker says dismantling facilities like this is nothing new. It’s part of the demolition process to restore the land back to its original place or to be used in some other way eventually.

He does say while in other places, like Western Kentucky, plants are typically built out, in Eastern Kentucky, plants are typically built up like this Martin Mine prep plant.

And Dr. Honaker, of course, can’t comment on what could have possibly led to the collapse of this idle plant. He does say it’s extremely rare, saying most accidents happen during active mining, not during the demolition process like this.

“I’ve never heard of anybody in my lifetime being hurt on the demolition side of a coal facility,” said Dr. Honaker. “Most of your injuries occur when it’s active, not when it’s being torn down.”

We are learning more information about this coal preparation plant.

The Excel-Pontiki Coal Preparation Plant is the site of the former Pontiki Coal Mine. Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet spokesperson John Mura told the Kentucky Lantern that alliance resource partners closed the prep plant in 2013.

It was then permitted to Lexington Coal Company, which is based in West Virginia.

The company contracted with Skeens Enterprises, which is based in Pike County, for site demolition and salvage operations.

The workplace death was reported to the Kentucky Division of Occupational Safety and Health Compliance. An inspection is now opened with Lexington Coal Company.