Interior residents urge mining company to reconsider plan to truck ore from Tetlin to Fairbanks

A long, steel truss bridge over a wide river bed. The bridge is on the route that the ore trucks would take.
The Black Veterans Memorial Bridge on the Alaska Highway. Advocates for Safe Alaska Highways members are concerned about the impact of trucks weighing around 70 tons each on the highways and bridges along the trucking route. (Creative Commons photo by sf-dvs)

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

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

“Our group is focused on two things,” said Gary Wilken, a Fairbanks resident and one of the organizers of group. “One is safety.”

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,” Wilken 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, developing a rail link or building an industrial road to keep the trucks off the highways.

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 said.

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 Highway. 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 Alaska Highways has “scenarios that are intended to generate fear.”

The spokesperson added that during Tuesday’s meeting in Fairbanks, company officials “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 in Fairbanks. Wednesday’s meeting, in Tok, will begin at 5 p.m. at Fast Eddy’s Restaurant.

Kinross officials announced Monday that the public also can attend the meetings by phone or online. The company posted that information to its Facebook page, along with the telephone number to call and a link to connect to the meeting online via Zoom.

KUAC - Fairbanks

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