(KCPW News) The Salt Lake County Council signed off on an agreement Tuesday formally allowing Kennecott to explore for minerals beneath county-owned open space in the Rose Canyon Ranch area of the Oquirrh Mountains. The agreement is a concession on the county's part that mineral rights trump property rights when it comes to federal law. Louie Cononelos, a government affairs advisor for Rio Tinto, says the company had hoped for a cooperative agreement all along.
"We have an agreement that basically protects the ownership rights of both parties, allows both parties to maintain their legal positions, and then agree to phased exploration," he said.
The agreement lays out what kind of exploration Kennecott is and is not allowed to perform in the area and creates a timetable. If Kennecott then wishes to pursue a mining operation there, the company's options include acquiring an equivalent amount of open space for the county elsewhere, or putting nearly $9 million into the county's Open Space Trust Fund as compensation.
It appears that future conflicts may arise under the deal, however. Mayor Peter Corroon says the agreement still allows the county to block Kennecott from doing any actual mining.
"It was a gamble whether or not Kennecott would find anything going through the federal process, and if they did so, the federal process may have allowed them to go further," he said. "We decided to come up with an agreement with Kennecott, let them do the non-invasive exploration, put the wires down, and if they find something, then we still have the right to say no now, whereas before, we may not have had the right to say no."
If Kennecott decides not to pursue mining in the area, it has agreed to assist Salt Lake County in acquiring the mineral rights so that the same situation doesn't arise with a different developer.