In our opinion: Kennecott's landslide

Published: Monday, May 6 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

A haul truck carries up to 340 tons of material during a media tour of Kennecott's Bingham Canyon mine and slide, Thursday, April 25, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

Executives at Kennecott Utah Copper have unfortunately found it necessary to lay off a number of employees while coping with a landslide of an almost unfathomable scale at its Bingham Canyon Mine. Restoration will be a colossal task, but an important one, as the company retains a sizeable influence on the local economy.

Kennecott is one of the state's largest private employers, and the temporary release of a still-undisclosed number of workers will have a serious impact not only on the employees and their families, but on the community at large.

The company also is the largest property tax contributor in Salt Lake County and, as such, it can be said that when Kennecott sneezes, the county catches cold. And quite a sneeze it was when 150 million tons of dirt tumbled into the two-mile wide mine.

The slide was a seismic event, literally and figuratively. The University of Utah reported it was commensurate to a 2.4-magnitude earthquake, and on the economic side, the state is beginning to feel the aftershocks. In addition to workforce reductions, the disruption to operations will potentially impact company valuations upon which property tax assessments are based. It's too early to tell if there will be any sizable adjustments to county revenues, but officials are watching carefully as Kennecott moves forward to get back to full operation.

Even so, county leaders have offered praise to the company for the way it has handled the event and its aftermath, and that commendation deserves to be echoed. Kennecott's sophisticated monitoring equipment gave ample warning prior to the slide so that employees could be removed from harm's way. County executives also thanked Kennecott for its candor and cooperation in explaining the environmental and economic impacts of the slide, and in how the company plans to go forward.

Kennecott has pledged to do what it can to limit the disruptions to its workforce while it copes with a projected 50 percent reduction in mine operations. Getting back to full operation will be an arduous chore. Aerial views of the open pit mine show a river of debris deep enough and wide enough to practically bury Salt Lake City's downtown skyline, leaving only the tips of the tallest buildings visible. The fact that no one was injured is remarkable, and a testament to the company's commitment to employee safety.

Kennecott has demonstrated in recent years a desire to serve as a good corporate citizen, responding to concerns over its impact on the local environment with a variety of expensive campaigns to mitigate that impact. But like it or not, digging and processing ore from the deepest corners of the Oquirrh Mountains comes with environmental consequences that can never be neutralized.

That is a simple fact of life, as is the fact that Kennecott is a major contributor to the local economy — to the tune of more than a billion dollars a year. Because of its enormous impact, it's critical to know that the company will operate in a responsible way. The manner in which it has handled the massive slide and its ongoing repercussions is evidence that Kennecott is keen to that necessity.

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