IX. Lines can bleed.
Nests- Carried one home today. Are they built with specific, real predators in mind or are they built according to a bird’s own aggression? I saw a magpie nest last week and it was a fortress. Bastille of a nest—crisscrossed, thick, and solid. Then there was the plumbeous vireo. A delicate bowl, laced between forked branches. Open to the sky.
Carol Rose, a law professor, wrote, “We often think of property as some version of entitlement to things: I have a right to this thing or that. In a more sophisticated version,” she continued, “...we see property as a way of defining our relationship with other people. On such versions, my right to this thing or that isn’t about controlling the “thing” so much as it is about my relationship with you.... Property is about relations among people.” [i]
And I would extend that to relations among all life.
There’s little recorded about Bingham Canyon before the mining. Some called it a wilderness. They say it was heavily forested with scrub oak, maple, and conifer trees, some three feet across in diameter.[ii] Melting snow and springs fed streams flowing down the canyon and side gulches. When mining arrived the canyon’s forest came down and the City of Bingham Canyon officially began in 1904.
Most knew the town just as “Bingham.” At its peak, Bingham’s main street stretched seven miles—the length of the town—while the narrow canyon walls confined its width to a city block. [iii] It was long and narrow and townspeople joked that here a dog could only wag its tail up and down. [iv] Buildings and mountains lived close. In 1937, Bingham was called “one of the busiest, most thriving towns in the State.”[v]
It was home to immigrants. It was diversity in tight quarters. It was home to miners. And it was their work that brought the city’s demise. As copper production thrived, the city thrived, and the mine’s piles grew.
Pictures show the encroaching overburden. “Terraced mountainsides and debris” approached the main street and “dynamite detonations daily rattled the old buildings, and a pall of dust hung in the air.” In the late 1950s, Kennecott Copper Corporation began purchasing sections of the City of Bingham Canyon, demolishing buildings as they went. The population dwindled. In 1960, the public library closed, and in 1961, the high school was demolished. By 1963, Kennecott owned most of the land in the canyon, letting leases expire and serving eviction notices. They began drilling within city limits.
Some citizens refused to be expelled. In a brazen move, those remaining passed a zoning ordinance, making mining and drilling illegal within areas of the city. Kennecott took the ordinance to court claiming the “zoning was unconstitutional infringement on property rights.” The citizens asserted that Kennecott held itself “above the proper legislative control of the city, deciding for itself what laws to obey.”[vi] The case eventually reached Utah’s Supreme Court, but the long and costly legal battle caused the town’s united front to crumble. The case was dismissed and “one-by-one property owners sold out, and one-by-one the buildings of Bingham fell.”[vii] By 1970, Bingham’s City Council consisted of three members and in 1971, the city’s number of legal voters was seventeen. On June 30, 1972 the streetlights along an empty Bingham Canyon switched off.[viii] Now the mine’s namesake, Bingham Canyon, is somewhere in the pile.
“Property is about relations among people” and all life. Often it is about keeping resources in and other people out. Today, Rio Tinto, a London-based global mining company, owns the mine. It purchased Kennecott in 1989, making Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation an owned subsidiary.
Rio Tinto Regional Center
I didn’t think I’d be this anxious.
I’ve thought of this moment—of being able to ask them anything—and now I feel such tension. I’m not nervous to speak with them, rather I feel divided in my determination to be respectful and courteous to all life. Today that intention collides, as I think of the life on the mountains and the people I am about to meet.
How do I respect both, today? How do I honor mountains I’ve listened to for over a year and yet truly listen to these people? How do I hold to both sorrow and kindness in this moment?
I finished, shook hands, thanked them, and went for a walk. I walked to the hill where I placed my copper installation. It’s been a year and a month since I staked it into this ground. I put it here, in sight of the Rio Tinto Regional Center. It was a signal to the mountains and that building. I knew little of both, then.
Now, the company has a face, the two generous people I just spoke with.
Now, the mountains are a collage of memories.
Both the man and woman I spoke with have visited the mountains. He’s hiked almost the whole breadth from Butterfield to the north. They both think it’s lovely land.
I went mainly to know about the future. I found information of the past and present, but little of future plans—especially once the mine is closed.
Yes, there is a plan, they said. It is fluid and won’t be formalized till closure comes closer. After all, they said, different people will be in charge then.
That was all I got. So, I asked specifics.
How long will the mine remain open?
Rio Tinto has committed to the mine until 2028. They believe the remaining mineral reserves are significant, perhaps even equal to the total amount mined in the past century.
I automatically thought, that means the amount of overburden will rise. I asked. They increased their permit a few years ago. Now, instead of 120,000,000, they can move 260,000,000 tons of earth annually during peak years.
What about the north impoundment, the one that has to be sprayed continually to contain dust? They said once it is no longer in operation, it will likely be vegetated, similar to what’s been done with the south impoundment.
I try to picture it—made to look like a mountain. We are making our own geologic record and I wonder how the earth will accept these new mountains in a hundred years.
And the Arthur Stepback Repository? It’s thirty acres of land, in the north mining zone, triple lined so it can hold 2.4 million cubic yards of contaminated soil. A hundred years of mining has left its mark and this repository is meant to hold the hazardous. It’s been filled with soil and sludge and capped with vegetation. At the closure of the mine, more contaminated earth will move here.
Will anything be done with the repository? That will stay, they said. And I think of the toxic soil that will outlast companies.
I was told nothing of the pit. Though, I’ve heard second-hand of a plan to reduce the angle of its overburden piles so they, too, can be vegetated.
They did tell me of the West Bench plan, which will inaugurate a new era in the Oquirrhs. When mining quiets down, the Oquirrhs—its eastern foothills and a few canyons—will house around half a million people. The plan is to clean up land and convert it into residential areas, interspersed with open land. According to past maps, development would reach into canyons, including a possible ski resort,and there may one day be homes next to the mine.[ix]
For now, these are places I see but can never enter. Fences and signs keep me away and I wonder what ideas and feelings are lost, with these places we cannot visit.
Rio Tinto Kennecott currently owns 96,000 acres of land. They say only half of that has been affected by mining.[x] In the interview, she said mining takes place in concentrated nodes, leaving the other land “pristine” for flora and fauna. That assumes, though, that the effects of mining respect fences and lines drawn on a map.
I respect these boundaries, but the effects of mining do not. There are things you cannot fence that seep into air, soil and water. Pollution, in all forms, does not respect borders. Under my home a contaminated plume of ground water, a result of mining, is continually being pumped and cleaned. There’s the street in West Jordan with high rates of cancer, likely from dirt contaminated with heavy metals.[xi] There are the Magna residents who are loosing their view of the sunset as mountains rise in the north.[xii] There are the birds, fish and other wildlife affected by polluted water near the Great Salt Lake.[xiii]
There’s the air, water, and soil. There’s life living close to this mine.
There are social benefits derived from copper. It is true that copper, as Rio Tinto Kennecott states, upholds “modern living.” The mine is connected to the way I live. Mass production and consumption are often tied with massive environmental disruption.[xiv] Creating large quantities of a product, at lower costs, requires mass amounts of materials, and restraint can be detrimental to its continuance. I’m not ignorant that my way of living mines, no matter how hard I try to make it otherwise.
But, I must not be ignorant of the exchange. Copper for peaks. Copper for mining and its effects.
This isn’t about one company; it is about a century of mining.
Land embodies our past.
Property is not a fixed right, rather it is a claim to society, a claim that society then upholds.[xv]
Property is about relations among people. It is about my relationship with you.
In there, I gave my name to the receptionist, who was flanked by a seated security guard. I sat while “they would come get me” on the tip of an ergonomic chair, with gleaming metal legs holding the seat of woven fabric, that was as bright as the red surrounding their name on the screens that scrolled numbers and showed laden trucks to speak of process, while the yellow fluorescent overhead bit into the blue-day-lit windows and behind me the globe spread flat on the wall, empty except for circles marking holdings and I found Bingham Canyon Mine, one dot, a yellow dot, yellow for copper, and it all felt so sharp and clean and I thought, what are baskets to this?
Now, I’m sitting on this knoll, in full view of the mine with gulls and terns skimming sky overhead.
Remember your own words.
Things we see as entrenched, solid and destined, were at one point only an option. Decisions grow exponentially, for by small things are great things brought to pass.
And I thought of the baskets.
[i] Carol M. Rose, Property and Persuasion: Essays on the History, Theory, and Rhetoric of Ownership (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994), 272.
[ii] John Mason Boutwell, Economic Geology of the Bingham Mining District, Utah (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1905), 81.
[iii] Spendlove, A History of Bingham Canyon.
[iv] Scott Crump, “Bingham Canyon,” Utah History Encyclopedia, March 31, 2015, <
[v] Spendlove, A History of Bingham Canyon, 156.
[vi] Bailey, A History of Bingham Canyon, Utah, 176.
[vii] Ibid., 177.
[viii] “City of Bingham Canyon,” Utah Division of Archives and Records Service, March 31, 2015 <
[ix] “West Bench General Plan,” Salt Lake County, June 2006, accessed March 31, 2015, <
[x] “Land Management,” Rio Tinto Kennecott, accessed March 31, 2015 <
[xi] Amy Choate-Nielsen, “The Danger Down Below: Cancer Cluster Raises Questions about Legacy of Toxic Waste in Utah Soil,” Deseret News, August 20, 2011.
[xii] Amy Choate-Nielsen, “In Shadow of One of World's Largest Mines, Magna Fights for Its Future,” Deseret News, August 23, 2011.
[xiii] “North Zone Wetlands Restoration Is Up For Public Discussion,” Deseret News, March 27, 2008.
[xiv] LeCain, Mass Destruction, 187.
[xv] This point is evidenced by the number of permits required of Rio Tinto Kennecott for the current mining operations. From personal correspondence with the company, they said there are hundreds of permits, approvals, certificates, orders, determinations, etc. required. The company has around thirty for the specific category of environmental permits