Magna residents, mining co. at odds over expansion

By Amy Choate-nielsen

Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 24 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

If Kennecott is granted a permit to expand its tailings pond, the perimeter will expand into 565 acres of wetlands along the Great Salt Lake, and it will grow three stories taller in some places. In phase two of the project, Kennecott would resume using a majority of the south tailings pond, which is still seismically unstable.

The south tailings pond also seeps water into a shallow aquifer, as permitted by Utah's Department of Water Quality. The pond leaks at a rate of about 620 gallons per minute, according to the UDWQ, which found high levels of arsenic, selenium and cadmium in the aquifer. The north tailings impoundment sits on a layer of clay, which acts as a natural liner. The UDWQ monitors ground water through 28 wells situated around the entire complex.

Kennecott's central plans to expand and keep mining until 2039 depend on making the tailings pond bigger.

Extending the mine's life will help serve the world's need for copper, says Kyle Bennett, Rio Tinto spokesman.

"The resources we're providing are helping to fuel a more green world, in many respects," Bennett says. "Economic growth — industrial growth — is driven by the resources we are obtaining through our activities."

Living so close to Kennecott has not always been easy for Norcross' family. His grandfather built the house in 1938, and in his day, smelter smoke from the nearby stacks killed the vegetation. In his mother's day — she lived in the house until 2007 — particles blowing from the tailings pond were sometimes so thick she couldn't see far enough to walk, and the inside of the house was constantly covered in grey-brown tailings dust. In his day, Norcross discovered the south corner of the tailings pond was unstable.

But the mine's impact reaches beyond Norcross' home on the east side of Magna. On the west side of town, in the shadow of Kennecott's power plant, Diane Haggart worries about the air she breathes and the water she refuses to drink. She sees pieces of ash on the ground when the stacks are running, and once, last summer, she could hardly breathe from the smoke inside her home. Before the mine is allowed to expand, there should be a health study done first, to determine how residents in the area are being impacted, she says.

"All I ask is a right to live and breathe," Haggart says. "I don't think that should be a lot to ask for."

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