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Views on Kennecott run gamut

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Magna residents Mike Sullivan and Jack Nielsen are about as far apart as two people could be about their feelings these days over Kennecott Utah Copper's track record in Magna.

"I'm sorry, call me cynical, but the only time they've ever fixed anything is when the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has held a gun to their head and said, 'Fix it,"' Sullivan said.

Neither man has worked for Kennecott or had family members employed directly by the company. Sullivan has lived in Magna for eight years, Nielsen for 31 years.

"He's wrong, he's flat wrong," Nielsen said about Sullivan's blunt assessment of Kennecott. "When they see a problem, they address it and they address it aggressively. If people would relax and let them do their job."

Part of Kennecott's job right now is working on trust issues that some Magna residents expressed at a meeting last week when company officials responded to allegations that Kennecott and the state colluded 20 years ago to cover up evidence of seismic safety concerns at a corner of Kennecott's old south tailings pond.

Both men were at that meeting last week and plan on being at a Magna Town Council meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. to hear more from Kennecott.

"I think there's a lot of questions that need to be answered," said Sullivan, who is considering legal action in order to hold Kennecott's feet to the fire.

Kennecott said last week it plans on paying for an independent study of the southeast corner at the old tailings pond, which no longer holds water but still contains tailings waste. The goal now is to determine the corner's seismic safety 20 years after a report that deemed the corner a risk to nearby residents. A Kennecott spokesman said Monday the company is working with Salt Lake County Council member Mike Jensen on details of the study.

Sullivan's goal with a lawsuit would be to preserve the study's integrity, meaning no representation by Kennecott officials or elected leaders.

"Right now, I believe Kennecott about as far as I could bury them beneath that pond," he said. "I don't trust them at all — they're a major corporation." While Sullivan's home probably wouldn't be affected today if the old pond's southeast corner failed in a strong earthquake, he said he's concerned about the impact negative publicity and an associated "stigma" will have on property values in his neighborhood.

"I'm going to watch out for me," he said.

Sullivan moved to Magna because he got a "killer deal" on his property.

Today he's keenly aware that he made his purchase in close proximity to an area the federal government once characterized as badly polluted.

In 1994 the EPA proposed listing two Kennecott zones, dubbed north and south, as federal Superfund cleanup areas, which the EPA considers to be among the worst hazardous waste sites in the country. In the north zone, identified as an area in Magna, the EPA reports that more than 2.2 million cubic yards of contaminated soil has been treated, stabilized or removed. Farther south in the Copperton area, the EPA shows that the same efforts have taken place with nearly 35 million cubic yards of polluted soil and "other soil-based media."

In the meantime, Sullivan's property taxes recently went up, and he's certain he wouldn't be able to sell his home for what the county says it's worth. If he doesn't hear what he wants in Thursday's meeting, he'll consider filing a class-action suit against Kennecott.

"That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard of," said Nielsen, who owns seven buildings in Magna and calls himself a developer.

He said Kennecott has been proactive in recent years with regard to environmental issues in the area. "That's what impresses me about this company," he said.

Nielsen said he isn't trying to stroke Kennecott's ego to further his interests as a developer or as a consultant who specializes in what he called large industrial repairs — Kennecott has never hired him as a consultant.

"What do I have to gain? Nothing," he said. "I have no plans in selling any of my buildings for a minimum of five years." Those buildings, Nielsen added, are valuable as lease properties. Thursday's meeting, coincidentally, will be held in one of his buildings. He thinks people are overreacting to recent news stories about Kennecott's alleged cover-up.

"All of a sudden, there's one article and they start running around, 'The sky is falling, the sky is falling,"' he said about reactions to Kennecott, which he defends. "I have faith in them."

Superfund profiles for Kennecott on Net

Links to EPA Superfund site progress profiles for Kennecott north and south "zones":

cfpub.epa.gov/supercpad/cursites/csitinfo.cfm?id=0800636 (north zone)

cfpub.epa.gov/supercpad/cursites/csitinfo.cfm?id=0800601 (south zone)

E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com