SALT LAKE CITY — The massive landslide at Kennecott Utah Copper’s Bingham Canyon Mine was a “challenging but disappointing event,” a mine executive told the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday afternoon.
While Kennecott needs to resolve several short-term issues to safely resume mining in the slide area, “we’re determined to come out of this stronger and better than we were before,” said Ted Himebaugh, general manager of integrated operations.
The April 10 slide moved an estimated 150 million tons of dirt and rock. By April 13, mining operations had resumed in an unaffected area of the 2.5-mile, open-pit mine. In that portion of the mine, crews are removing more than a billion tons of soil and rock to reach copper ore deposits.
Earlier, Kennecott officials said they expect production at the mine to drop by half in 2013.
“We’ll try to do better than that, absolutely,” Himebaugh said.
Brandon Drew of Operating Engineers Local No. 3, which represents heavy equipment operators and diesel mechanics, said no workers directly employed by Kennecott have lost income as a result of reduced operations.
“At no point has Kennecott indicated they were going to lay anyone off. In fact, they paid all of their employees when they couldn’t work,” Drew told the council.
Councilman Michael Jensen said Kennecott officials had briefed the Unified Fire Authority about the potential slide, and the two entities had trained jointly to respond to the event.
As it turned out, no one was injured when the slide occurred at about 9:30 p.m. Fourteen trucks and three shovels were damaged.
“From a fire department perspective, we were extremely happy how they handled it. They were very upfront with us,” said Jensen, who is chief of the UFA.
Mine operators had carefully monitored the disturbed area weeks prior to the slide, “but we didn’t have a clear understanding how big it was,” Himebaugh said.
“We sort of had a plan like DEFCON,” he said, referring to the U.S. military’s graduated levels of readiness or states of alert. "When we get to this point, we do this. When we get to this point, we do that. Of course, it was untested."
Kennecott is the county’s leading taxpayer but neither council members nor Kennecott officials made direct reference to the potential financial impact to the county.
Just as the county and economy benefits when Kennecott thrives, “we’re sharing in our collective sacrifice,” Himebaugh said. Mine regulators have not yet given Kennecott officials the OK to re-enter the slide area.
“It will benefit everyone to get Kennecott back on track as fast as we can," Jensen said.