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86 school bus stops along Manh Choh ore-hauling route prompt discussion

Diagram of a proposed ore-hauling truck. Black Gold Express is the trucking contractor for the ore-hauling plan from Tetlin's Manh Choh gold mine to the mill at Fort Knox, north of Fairbanks on the Steese Highway.
Diagram courtesy of Kinross.
Diagram of a proposed ore-hauling truck. Black Gold Express is the trucking contractor for the ore-hauling plan from Tetlin's Manh Choh gold mine to the mill at Fort Knox, north of Fairbanks on the Steese Highway.

School bus stops on the ore-hauling route from the Manh Choh gold mine in Tetlin to the Fort Knox mill north of Fairbanks were discussed yesterday by the Technical Advisory Committee.

The citizen committee that reviews safety in the road corridor picked up certain topics they weren’t able to get to at their July 26 meeting, like school bus stops. There are 86 school bus stops along the 240-mile ore-hauling route. The committee had questions about the trial runs that Kinross will launch later this year to test the big 95-foot double-trailer rigs that will bring the ore north from Tetlin on the Alaska and Richardson Highways.

Barbara Schuhmann, from Advocates for Safe Alaska Highways, has been watch-dogging the ore-hauling plan.

“Can you tell us what the plan is for your trial runs? Like per hour or per day, for this school year? For this semester?” Schuhmann asked.

Patrick Filbin, of Kinross, the developer of the mine, says the details are still being worked out with Black Gold Express, the ore trucking contractor.

“We do anticipate starting to put loads into those trailers later into the year, most likely in the fourth quarter, and starting to transport some ore, in, I would say, reduced capacity,” Filbin said.

Filbin is the manager of the Mahn Choh mine. He says the mine facilities are still under construction, and striking port workers in Vancouver and the lower 48 have slowed the schedule for opening the mine, which he says is on a slow ramp-up through next year.

“We don't plan to hit our full production throughput of 2.5 trucks per hour until sometime in the second half of 2024,” Filbin said.

That gives time, Filbin said, to continue the company’s outreach to school districts.

Slides from the Technical Advisory Committee on their webpage show the school bus stops for Alaska Gateway, Delta-Greely and Fairbanks North Star Borough Schools.

Jackson Fox of Fairbanks Area Surface Transportation (FAST) Planning asked why there aren’t policies for protecting school children exposed to greater risk from industrial traffic.

Pam Golden of the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities says the agency coordinates with school districts and the bussing contractors on a case-by-case basis, when someone asks for assistance.

“Bus stops are not set by the department. They're not permitted by the department. It, is a really tough balance,” Golden said.

Committee members asked if the ore-trucking could be worked around school schedules. Filbin, speaking for Kinross, says other companies with standard double-trailer rigs were not being asked to make adjustments.

How many other commercial operators on the road are being asked to adjust their operating plans and schedules based around this? When the site stopping distance and vehicles on the road related to these school buses are the same for everyone else on the ice-covered roads as it is for our operation. I don't understand why our particular vehicles are being singled out and asked to adjust our operating plans,” Filbin said.

The committee will meet next at the end of September. Now with a contract facilitator, Shelly Wade of Agnew Beck Consultants, the project team will post meeting recordings on the Technical Committee’s website. Meetings in the future will have a one-hour public comment period. The committee plans to have a draft Action Plan for the Alaska Richardson Steese Highways Corridor later this fall and have several open house events to get more public comment.

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.