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Interior Legislators Hear Ore Haul Concerns

Representative Maxine Dibert, Ashley Carrick, Mike Cronk, Will Stapp (STAP) and Frank Tomaszewski (toma-CHEFF-skee) along with
Dan Bross
(L to R) Representative Maxine Dibert, Senator Scott Kawasaki, and Representatives Ashley Carrick, Mike Cronk, Will Stapp and Frank Tomaszewski at the October 31, 2023, ASAH meeting.

(Fairbanks, Ak.) A group concerned about the Kinross Mahn Choh Mine ore haul met with some Interior state legislators this week. Advocates for Safe Alaska Highwayshosted representatives Ashley Carrick, Mike Cronk, Maxine Dibert, Will Stapp and Frank Tomaszewski along with Senator Scott Kawasaki and staffers for Senator Robert Myers. The lawmakers heard about public safety issues and infrastructure impacts relative to the movement of 95-foot-long ore trucks on the Alaska, Richardson, and Steese highways as well as some Fairbanks roads. Advocates for Safe Alaska Highways Patrice Lee urged legislators to act.

“Please protect the travelling public, our family, friends, neighbors, tourists, school children and all from 82-ton trucks on our highways, coming through town every 12 minutes or so.”

Lee asked lawmakers to seek a pause in the ore haul until a state corridor analysis is finished and identified safety projects are completed. She also emphasized the high public cost of added road maintenance and infrastructure upgrades.

“Protect us from privatizing profits while leaving the public on the hook for enormous expenses in the hundred of millions of dollars.”

Legislators said they understand the concerns but offered little in the way of action. Representative Will Stapp noted that ore trucks have already begun to run on a limited basis.

“So, I’m not sure from a legislative standpoint what I can do to stop a project that is already happening.”

Representative Ashley Carrick emphasized that the Dunleavy administration has pushed the project.

“There’s been a lot of effort into making it happen and it’s happened very quickly, and with very little opportunity until it was already essentially a done deal for the public or the legislature to weigh in, and now there are few recourse options for the legislature and none that can happen in an extremely timely fashion.”

State Senator Scott Kawasaki said he became aware of the project about a year and half ago. Kawasaki empathized with people frustrated with the lack of legislative action, and after the meeting commented on current prospects.

“We’ve had some conversations with the Department of Transportation about things like maintenance and tolls. We’ve had some back and forth between individuals who are supportive of the project and opposed to the project but want to see something happen when it comes to public safety and maintenance and operations of the road. So it’s a complex issue. It’s not going to get solved overnight and it sounds like trucks are already starting to haul.”

Senator Kawasaki says it’s troubling that the Mahn Choh project could set a precedent for the transport of ore on public roads. Representative Mike Cronk of Tok, says he thinks the ore haul can be conducted safely, but that he understands other’s concerns. Cronk also highlights the importance of balancing those issues against Mahn Choh project benefits, like jobs.

“That’s very important in this state when we’re watching outmigration and we’re arguing that hey people are leaving, but if we’re not going to create jobs then why are they going to stay? So it’s kind of a 2 fold thing, you know? Yes, development does have some issues, but it also has some positives, so I try to focus on the positive even though we do have the negative, but safety has to be number one.”

Cronk says he supports highway corridor upgrades but would prefer to see an extension of the Alaska Railroad to haul ore. ###