We never said there would not be future layoffs. I have no knowledge of any planned or future staff reductions at this time. I do want to be realistic. We face a lot of challenges. —Rio Tinto's Kennecott Utah Copper spokesman Kyle Bennett

SOUTH JORDAN — A restructuring of Kennecott Utah Copper's top management announced Thursday by parent company Rio Tinto is being called a result of April's massive landslide at the Bingham Canyon Mine.

But the changes were "absolutely not" intended as a punishment for the collapse of a section of the open-pit mine that buried equipment, buildings and roads, Rio Tinto's Kennecott Utah Copper spokesman Kyle Bennett said.

"The changes are not being made to hold a few people accountable for something they couldn't completely control," Bennett said. "It's about structuring the business to be efficient so we can be successful long term."

The decision to move Kelly Sanders, Kennecott's president and chief executive officer, and several other executives to new positions within Rio Tinto follows the layoff of about 100 workers in late May.

Bennett said more layoffs are still possible, even though the decline in production as a result of the slide is not as severe as initially predicted and some equipment has been recovered.

"We never said there would not be future layoffs," he said. "I have no knowledge of any planned or future staff reductions at this time. I do want to be realistic. We face a lot of challenges."

Production was expected to drop 50 percent because of the slide, but Bennett said Kennecott is "surpassing those levels slightly. Our recovery efforts are going well, so we will be a little above the 50 percent mark at the end of the year."

So far, five of the 13 coal trucks buried in the slide have been recovered, he said, and one is already back in operation. At least three more are expected to be put back in production with some work, Bennett said.

Kennecott continues to use remote-controlled vehicles to stabilize the damaged area of the mine and is making strong progress, he said, even though there are "still many key obstacles to overcome."

A detailed report on the progress at the mine is anticipated later this month or in early September.

What Sanders will be doing for Rio Tinto will be announced at a later date. Stephane Leblanc, Kennecott's chief operating officer, will assume the responsiblity of managing director.

1 comment on this story

Also taking new jobs within Rio Tinto are Pat Keenan, chief financial officer, and Nicky Firth, vice president of human resources. Keenan will be taking a capital development post, but Firth's new position was not named.

Lynn Cardey-Yates, vice president of sustainable development, is stepping down in September but will remain at Kennecott until December. Bennett said Cardey-Yates will not be replaced.

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsPolitics