MAGNA — A much-anticipated seismic safety check of a large portion of Kennecott Utah Copper's south tailings impoundment may begin in November and is expected to take no more than a year, a group organizing the inspection learned Wednesday.

The Kennecott Tailings Impoundment Study Committee met in Magna to hammer out details of a draft document that will guide it during the selection process seeking a firm to do the safety study.

The reason for the checkup is because earlier this year Magna residents learned about 20-year-old reports that suggested the impoundment, which held water then, might breach in a strong earthquake. The news cast doubts among some in Magna whether Kennecott was being up front about risks to residents living near the impoundment, which is no longer considered a structure that functions as a dam.

Kennecott spokeswoman Gina Crezee submitted a letter this week to committee members, noting the new study should reflect that the impoundment is not a water-retention dam and that it has been in place for more than 100 years, "well before today's standards that apply to dam safety were put in place."

Crezee, who was at Wednesday's meeting, also wrote that it has been Kennecott's understanding that the new study will focus on the safety of Magna's Meadow Green Estates, which is near the southeast portion of the impoundment.

"Most importantly, we hope that the committee comes to the same conclusion as Kennecott, that the Meadow Green Estates community is safe from tailings in the event of a significant seismic event," wrote Crezee.

Committee members in a meeting next week are expected to finalize their guiding document and elect a six-member selection committee from among their members. The subcommittee will use a scoring system to weigh applicants and will bring back to the whole committee a short list of potential candidates to do the study being funded by Kennecott.

In the event two of the top firms being looked at have a tie score, it may come down to a conflict of interest.

"Due to the nature of this project, a current contract with Kennecott will not constitute an automatic conflict of interest," the committee's guiding document reads. It will depend upon the "level of association" with the new study whether or not the conflict should be the deciding factor.

The goal now is that requests for proposals go out nationwide, that applications are in by Oct. 1 and a decision is made by the end of that month. After that, the committee expects progress reports from the company chosen every 90 days.


E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com