(KCPW News) A bill passed this year could make it easier for Kennecott Utah Copper to explore the land underneath Salt Lake County's Rose Canyon open space area in the Oquirrh Mountains. County Council Chairman Joe Hatch said the company first introduced the bill as a benign clarification of current law. But when county officials saw the original draft of the bill, they thought it was anything but benign. Hatch said the alleged misrepresentation is just the latest in a series of strained relations with the company.
"Each time I sit down and talk with them, I become more and more skeptical of what they are saying, which is unfortunate," Hatch said. "With me, they have a lot of bridge building to do because of what has happened in the past. And that's too bad that that has occurred; I don't think that was necessary."
Hatch voted against an agreement negotiated with the company that allows the exploration of the canyon. But the agreement passed with a five-to-three vote. It allows exploration, but if the company decides to mine the canyon, it must give the county an equivalent amount of open space, or $9 million dollars. And the county maintains it can pull out of the agreement at any time.
Hatch said the county's problem with the mining protection bill boils down to a single word: "imminent." He said that word basically nullifies the county's agreement with Kennecott, and shifts much of the discretion in planning and zoning issues away from the county. And that's a problem, because Kennecott owns most of the undeveloped private land within its borders. Hatch said maintaining a good relationship with the company is crucial.
"What is clear is in both sides' interest is to have a complete open door, and a complete discussion of all the issues that come up and not have any kind of conspiratorial notion about the other," Hatch said. "And I don't think they're out to get the county, they're just out to maximize the return on their investment. And they have a substantial investment in this county."
Hatch said Kennecott has agreed to meet with the county to discuss officials' concerns with the bill. Kyle Bennett with Kennecott told KCPW the bill is only intended to protect the company's 100-year-old interest in the valley.