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Group urges Kinross to reconsider ‘extraordinary’ ore-trucking plan

KUAC file graphic
A slide from an April 2021 Kinross Gold community meeting shows the company's plan to mine ore from the Manh Choh mine near Tetlin and transport it by truck to the mill at Fort Knox, near Fox.

Kinross to report on mine development, ore-trucking plan during in-person public meetings in Fairbanks, Tok

Kinross Gold will hold two public meetings next week to talk about its plans to develop a mine near Tetlin and to haul ore from there by truck to the mill at its Fort Knox mine north of Fairbanks. And opponents of the trucking plan say they’ll voice their concerns about the plans during those meetings.

Members of an ad-hoc group called Advocates for Safe Alaskan Highways say Kinross’s trucking plan will endanger the lives of people who live along and drive on the 240-mile route from the Manh Choh mine near Tetlin to Fort Knox.

“Our group is focused on two things,” says Gary Wilken, a Fairbanks resident and one of the organizers of group. “One is safety,” which is why the group hopes to convince company officials to reconsider their plan to run up to 192 trucks a day along the route, each of which will be up to 120 feet long pulling two trailers and weighing some 70 tons.

“Secondly,” he said, “and most importantly, we want to try to (convey) the sense that there must be alternative to this extraordinary 500-mile round trip hauling rock from Tetlin to Fort Knox.”

Members of the group propose three alternatives in a document they’ve produced and begun to circulate. They include Kinross building a mill at the mine, or developing a rail link or an industrial road for the trucks only, to keep them off the highways.

University of Alaska Fairbanks archives
Advocates for Safe Alaskan Highways members also are concerned about the impact of the heavy trucks weighing around 70 tons each on the highways and bridges along the trucking route, including the Gerstle River bridge, completed in 1944. In 2017, the structure was renamed the Black Veterans Memorial Bridge as part of the 75th anniversary of construction of the Alaska Highway, to commemorate the work of Black U.S. Army soldiers who helped build the highway at the height of World War II.

Wilken says the group looks forward to talking to Kinross officials about their proposals

“We haven’t really been able to sit down and have a critical analysis of what their plan may or may not be,” he added.

Wilken says the group wants to know more about the company's plan for the last segment of the route, from Fairbanks to Fort Knox. They say the state Transportation Department restricts trucks pulling double trailers on the Steese. And that means Kinross will have to decouple the trailers and haul them one at a time to the mill, which they say will require up to 384 single-trailer truck trips daily on that segment.

A Kinross Gold spokesperson said in an email Monday that company officials haven’t made final decisions on the trucking plan. And that they strongly prefer to run the double trailers along the whole route.

Wilken says members of the group also believe the trucking plan will require more and ongoing maintenance to repair damage to the roads inflicted by trucks. And they’re concerned about the impacts on Alaska Highway bridges that were built in the 1940s. They say the highways are already heavily trafficked by trucks hauling fuel and supplies, as well as slow-moving Army convoys and recreational vehicles.

The Kinross spokesperson said in a followup email Thursday that the document compiled by Advocates for Safe Alaskan Highways has “scenarios that are intended to generate fear.”

The spokesperson added that during Tuesday’s meeting in Fairbanks, company officials, quote, “will be sharing more details about our plan and correcting and clarifying much of the misinformation included in the document.”

Tuesday’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Pioneer Park Civic Center. Wednesday’s meeting, in Tok, will begin at 5 p.m. at Fast Eddy’s Restaurant.

The Kinross spokesperson said people interested in participating in the meetings must attend in-person, because company officials believe that’s a more effective way to talk with the public than with a webcast platform.