Kennecott recovering from slide nearly 6 months later

Posted at 10:08 PM, Oct 01, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-02 00:34:47-04

BINGHAM CANYON MINE -- Nearly six months after a massive landslide here, Kennecott is trying to get back to full operations.

Four massive trucks have been returned to work after crews dug them out from underneath 165 million tons of debris. One was found resting on its rear tires -- each 12-feet tall; others were found suspended in the dirt.

"We've retrieved 11 of the 13 trucks," said Rachel Bennett, a Kennecott engineer tasked with retrieving some of the lost equipment. "Two remain. They're not currently visible, though."

The path of the slide stretches nearly three-quarters of a mile from a ridge line all the way down to the bottom of the pit. The April slide may be the largest human-caused landslide in history. Kennecott officials had anticipated it and safely gotten everyone out of the mine, but the slide exceeded predictions about how big it would be.

Since then, Kennecott workers have been trying to get it back to full operation. The slide cut production by 50 percent.

"We've moved more than six million tons of material from the top and the sides of the slide," Kennecott spokesman Kyle Bennett told FOX 13. "We're producing more ore than anticipated."

On Tuesday, crews could be seen working to carve a road through the path of the slide. It would enable them to get waste out of the bottom of the pit, so they could begin extracting more copper, gold, silver and other ores.

"This is the road to recovery," said Cody Sutherlin, a mediation manager for Kennecott who is working on the road project. "This road allows us to take material out of our cuts and it allows us to get down to the ore. It's an essential piece for the mine to continue."

Nearby, there was only a narrow point marking the spot where the popular Bingham Canyon Mine visitor's center once stood. The company said it hopes to bring it back one day, but has no immediate plans.

The slide has had a significant economic impact. In the aftermath, Kennecott laid off about 100 workers. More than 100 others took early retirement incentives, avoiding another round of layoffs.

"We don't have any plans right now for more layoffs or to remove any other individuals from the business," Bennett said. "Right now, we're just focusing on the recovery of the operation."

The company is currently estimating that by the end of 2015, it will be back to pre-slide levels of production.

"Because this is a historic and unprecedented slide, it's going to change the face of Kennecott forever," Bennett said.