Kinross to launch ‘trial runs’ of ore-hauling trucks this summer
Company to begin hauling gold ore later this summer, then transition to big double-trailer trucks next year
Kinross Alaska plans to start trial runs later this summer of ore-hauling trucks from its Manh Choh gold mine in Tetlin to Fairbanks to prepare for full-scale hauling operations next summer. But a group opposed to the trucking plan says the company should wait until the state builds passing lanes and makes other safety improvements along the highway haul route.
Kinross will begin trial runs this summer with truck-trailer combinations running along the 240-mile route from Tetlin to Fox. Company officials said in a written statement Wednesday that the trailers will initially be empty for testing, but later will be loaded. The company plans to ramp up the trucking operation next year, when the 95-foot-long, 80-ton double-trailer rigs will be running an average of 60 ore loads a day.
Meanwhile work on a series of passing lanes on the Richardson Highway part of the route intended to help drivers safely get around the big trucks isn’t expected to begin until August.
“We don’t have a contractor on board yet,” says Carl Heim, the DOT’s Northern Region design engineering manager.
“We’re going to advertise that project here -- I’m going to say in two weeks,” he said in an interview last week. “So we’ll have a low-bid contractor in the middle of July.
Heim says if all goes well, the contractor may be able to begin surveying and clearing on one or two passing lanes in August. But he says it’s unlikely that any construction on the passing lanes will be done ‘til next summer.
“I don’t expect a lot of dirt-moving activity this year,” he said, “just due to the fact that this project came out a little bit later than we would normally anticipate, due to design constraints.”
Members of a group opposed to the trucking plan say the passing lanes and other safety improvements should be completed before the big trucks roll.
“I mean it’s just common sense to wait until bridges are replaced and passing lanes are done and some other improvements,” says Barbara Schuhmann, a spokesperson for Advocates for Safe Alaska Highways. She says members of the group think the ore-hauling route needs more than just additional passing lanes; it also needs work like replacing deteriorated asphalt and bridges built in the 1940s and ‘50s.
“Why not wait until all that construction is done?” she said, “so that you’re sure that the bridges aren’t going to crumble under this weight of the big trucks?”
Many of the organization's concerns were based on the findings of a DOT study of the corridor issued in March.
The DOT’s original plan included drainage improvements, embankment repairs, utility relocations, guardrail work and driveway reconstructions. But Heim says the project’s been delayed and trimmed-back, including elimination of two Richardson Highway passing lanes that run near a section of the Tanana River north of Quartz Lake.
“The cost of those started to balloon to 5 to 8 million (dollars) per location, and I only have $40 million or $50 million to spend on this project,” he said. “So I had to get rid of a couple of those spots on the Tanana River side.”
Heim says construction of the passing lanes on the Richardson between Delta Junction and Fairbanks will begin in earnest next year. He says the contractor will decide the order in which they’re built, among other things.
A Kinross spokesperson said in written responses to questions that the company’s North Pole-based trucking contractor, Black Gold Transport, will begin full-blown ore-hauling operation sometime after July 1st of next year. The spokesperson said that timeframe depends on several factors, including the Lower 48 manufacturer of the trucks getting the big rigs built and delivered to Alaska, training drivers and building a weigh station at the Manh Choh mine in Tetlin.
The spokesperson said the company also wants to wait until it’s stockpiled enough gold ore at the mine to keep the trucks loaded and rolling.
Toronto-based Kinross is developing the mine in a joint venture with Houston-based Contango Ore, which owns a 30 percent interest in the project.
The DOT’s Heim says the passing lanes should be completed by the fall of 2025.
Editor's note: This story has been revised to correctly state that Kinross plans to use new trucks and trailers for the trial runs scheduled to begin this summer. It's also been revised to clarify that the trucking company Kinross has contracted for the ore-hauling operation is Black Gold Transport, a division of North Pole-based Black Gold Express.