State Mine Inspector: Bill Pierce criticizes agency’s inadequate budget

Bill Pierce is the Democratic candidate for State Mine Inspector. The Mesa resident has over 40 years of engineering experience. (Photo by Owain Evans / Cronkite News)

Name: Bill Pierce
Political party: Democrat
Position sought: State mine inspector
City of residence: Mesa
Occupation: Retired engineer

What is the greatest issue Arizona faces? If elected, how would you address this issue?

“One of the main issues is the small budget and lack of field inspectors,” Pierce said. “There’s over 400 mines in Arizona that are active, untold numbers of abandoned mines that are not secure and only four field inspectors statewide due to budget cutting.”

As a result of these cuts, he said, Arizona can’t meet federal standards, and until funding is addressed, the state has no hope of being in compliance.

The solution is to “make a lot of noise,” Pierce said, adding that he would lobby legislators and the governor to hire more mine inspectors.

What other issues are important to you and your campaign?

Uranium mining is another issue that “we have to be vocal about,” said Pierce, 70, who is a licensed radiation safety officer.

“It’ll kill you,” he said of uranium contamination. “There’s no way to get around that. There’s no way to candy coat it. It will kill you.”

Pierce linked the issue of workplace safety to the shortage of inspectors. To him, the importance of inspectors, mining companies and workers doing their jobs correctly is vital.

“It’s kind of a three-legged stool,” he described, “and with one leg missing, no matter what leg it is, it’s going to cause you a problem.”

What in your past work, political or volunteer experience makes you a better choice to hold this office?

“The fact that I’ve been in the engineering industry for over 40 years,” Pierce said.

He recounted his first experience with mines while working for the Michigan Department of Transportation. His role involved testing mined materials used in highway construction projects.

“We set up portable labs inside the mines,” he said. “We did all of our testing right there at the source.”

From there, Pierce moved to the private sector to “broaden my scope,” and became involved in construction projects from start to finish. That means he understands each step on the way, from the mining of raw materials to the “topping-off party afterwards.”

What is a personal challenge you feel you need to overcome?

Pierce didn’t mention any personal challenges, but he said acting quickly to shore up the office would be a major hurtle if he were elected.

“Out of the four inspectors we have,” he said, “two of them are getting close to retirement.”

This would be significant because he would need to rely on inspectors close to retirement to train replacements, which takes significant time.

“By the time we get somebody hired,” Pierce said, “through all the certification and training process, we’re probably looking at a close to a year to two years before they’re even able to go out on their own. We may not have that kind of time. We’ve got to act fast.”

Please share a quote or advice that you live by.

“I’m good with smart-aleck stuff,” Pierce said, but he struggled to identify a phrase that he has lived by.

“I’ve always got a quote that I close a speech with, but that’s kind of a cornball thing and gets a lot of laughs, but it’s not really what you’re looking for here.”

Pierce’s campaign later offered this “cornball” quote: “When you go to vote this November, remember, just like you drive your car: If you want to go forward, select D. If you want to go into reverse, select R.”

What app on your phone could you not live without?

“I have very few on my phone as it is because I don’t like using the darn thing!”

He settled on the emergency broadcast system as the most useful thing on his phone, while also referencing his occasional use of its camera and simple voicemail.

Is there anything you would like to add?

“This is the only state that elects its mine inspector,” he said. “So, if you vote for me, I’ll be the only elected mine inspector in the entire country.”

He also mentioned a surprise during this campaign.

“I’ve seen on my Facebook page for my campaign: ‘Don’t close (the abandoned mines) – we’d enjoy exploring them,'” Pierce said.

Pierce has a list of 1,525 unsecured mines across the state, without fences or other barricades around them, but said he suspects there are many more. Children sometimes fall in and die.

“I don’t really like the idea of having to investigate a death and go tell somebody that their child is dead.”

Other dangers with abandoned mines, he said, are noxious gases and “all kinds of critters,” and he suspects they’re used by human traffickers and drug smugglers.

Campaign website for Bill Pierce.

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