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FNSB Assembly tones-down trucking plan resolution

A map of the route along which Kinross plans to haul ore from the Manh Choh Mine near Tetlin to the Ft. Knox Mine mill north of Fairbanks.
Alaska Department of Transportation
A DOTPF map of the route along which Kinross Gold plans to haul ore from the Manh Choh Mine near Tetlin to the Ft. Knox Mine mill north of Fairbanks.

A reconsidered resolution about a gold ore trucking plan was toned-down considerably last week by the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly. The Assembly passed a resolution March 9 to oppose the plan to bring ore on heavy trucks 240 miles up the Richardson Highway from the Manh Choh mine in Tetlin. But one member who voted for it then, moved to look at it again.

Assembly member Brett Rotermund said he thought the tone of a resolution passed earlier this month (March 9,) sponsored by member David Guttenberg, was too harsh.

“No offense to Mr. Guttenberg, but I thought the language was a little bit too harsh. The resolution was too long and too wordy,” Rotermund said.

Rotermund said he wanted the borough resolution to be more similar to one the Fairbanks City Council passed on January 9, that declared the council was “concerned” with the trucking plan, rather than opposed to it.

 ”Because of my noviceness at this job and not knowing all the procedures, I, uh, my inability to move that discussion forward,” he said.

Rotermund was elected last October, and had not attended meetings before joining the Assembly.

The body voted to reconsider the resolution, then immediately began to amend it, starting with Rotermunnd’s substitution. One controversial passage was the changing of the language that the Assembly “Expresses Opposition” to the proposed route… to new language that the Assembly “continues to monitor” the proposed route. Member Savannah Fletcher said the language wasn’t strong enough even to suggest that.

“ It’s taken out any of the mentions of the reasons there would be safety concerns. The only thing it resolves us to do is that we continue to monitor. It's not really asking anything, or even saying that it's concerned with anything in particular,” Fletcher said.

The resolution mentioned the recent measures passed by the City of Fairbanks and the City of North Pole, (passed on February 6), the use of the highway by school busses and military vehicles, wear and tear on the highway from the heavy trucks, and redirecting public money away from other projects to address highway safety.

The Assembly added a phrase that it would monitor the progress of the Technical Advisory Committee, or TAC, that was formed by the state Department of Transportation to analyze the highway corridor for the ore hauling trucks. Borough Mayor Bryce Ward sits on the TAC, and answered some assembly questions.

“The TAC is a corridor study. Corridor studies, in my experience, typically take a year to 18 months. I don't believe that the TAC expects to have anything, maybe in draft form, ‘till the end of the year, but nothing for approval until later than that,” Ward said.

Ward told the assembly the TAC had been meeting quarterly, but will start meeting monthly or every two months. The TAC advises Kinney Engineering, the DOT contractor for the highways along the trucking route.

Assembly member Aaron Lojewski added a clause suggesting the mine developers, Kinross and Contango, look for alternatives to the transportation plan, such as a mill located near the mine, or a railroad extension into Eastern Interior Alaska.

We know you're doing the ore hauling regardless of what the people here -- there's a mixture of opinion -- but regardless of what that is, it's gonna happen. And so just, ‘hey, in the long term, maybe we can work together. Maybe we can work with our federal delegation. Maybe we can work with the state of Alaska, work in our railroad into the lower 48 with that first linkage, perhaps to Tok, perhaps to Tetlin, and perhaps if we work together and, and not fight each other, maybe it's something we can have done in five years or 10,” Lojewski said.

Lojewski also added a clause about safety:

“ Be it further resolved that should the ore haul plan proceed, that trucking should be done with the greatest safety culture possible, to minimize the risks on our public highway,” He read.

Both amendments passed 7 to 2. Lojewski said the changes are important since the gold mining district near Tetlin may have long-term yields decades into the future.

And a note here: Kinross Fort Knox is a supporter of KUAC.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.