Kennecott Utah Copper received praise Tuesday from the Salt Lake County Council and a union representative for the company's handling of the massive slide April 10 at its Bingham Canyon Mine.
Councilman Michael Jensen, who doubles as the Unified Fire Authority chief, said Kennecott informed his agency a slide was coming far enough in advance for his safety officers to work with company personnel on the response plan.
"We trained with them. They did a fabulous job. I'm extremely happy how they've handled everything," Jensen said after listening to Kennecott executive Ted Himebaugh's update on conditions at the century-old mine, which provides direct employment to about 2,100 people involved in producing copper, gold and molybdenum.
"From a local perspective as well as a state perspective, it benefits everybody to get Kennecott back on track," Jensen added. "I wish you the best. Whatever we can do, we're very supportive."
Himebaugh, Kennecott's general manager of integrated operations and former supervisor of the Bingham Canyon Mine, said the company isn't asking the county for anything now as it formulates a plan to restore the mine to full production. Its output was cut in half by the slide, which took 150 million tons of waste rock and piled it up 300 feet deep in the bottom of the mine.
"We're not out for any favors. … We feel we can comply with the [environmental] permits we have," he said, referring to noise, dust and vibration regulations involving the extra truck traffic likely to be generated in removing waste rock from the mine bottom. Kennecott officials have been talking to residents of Copperton, the community closest to the mine, to "see if they have concerns," Himebaugh said.
Brandon Dew, business representative for Operating Engineers Local No. 3, said Kennecott has communicated frequently with union members concerned that lower production will translate into job losses. "Nobody's been laid off," he said, adding "they paid people for several days when they were unable to work."
Himebaugh said the company is assessing its business bounceback, acknowledging there could be "uncomfortable decisions that come up in the short term that affect us and the community as well."
Council Chairman Steve DeBry said what impressed him most was that "when you knew something was wrong, you got employees out of harm's way," noting that no one was injured.
"We would hope that would always be expected of us," Himebaugh said. "We can be mad about some things [that happened] because we don't have things to be sad about. We're not grief-stricken."
Council also tackles health care changes
Complying with the Affordable Care Act will cost Salt Lake County about $1.4 million in 2014, mostly for health care benefits extended to about 86 part-time employees who work about 30 hours a week.
"There is a fee involved but it's not catastrophic," said Ilene Rhodes, the county's benefits manager, in presenting the preliminary figures to the County Council.
She had been afraid the health care liability would be much greater since the county employs almost 5,000 temporary and seasonal workers. But the relatively small increase (4.4 percent) indicated to her that "our departments are using their temps well."
County Finance Director Darrin Casper told the council that "4.4 percent is under our long-term projections" for health care benefit costs borne by the county. "That would be a tremendous benefit for us."
The council will deal with the issue later this year in assembling the 2014 calendar-year budget.