A number of authors have written publicly about the ore haul in recent days. In case you missed them, here they are:
♣ Dermot Cole’s Now we find out that 2 Fairbanks bridges can’t handle fully-loaded Kinross trucks in Reporting From Alaska
♣ David Cornberg’s Letter to the Editor in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:
To the Editor: As I read the state’s own published information, the proposed Manh Choh- Fort Knox ore haul is dead in the water. First, the state’s own Department of Transportation has determined that the Steese Highway Chena River bridge is not strong enough to bear repeated crossings by 165,000 pound vehicles without risk of serious damage. Second, according to the state’s own printed regulations, the maximum length of any vehicle legally allowed on any portion of Peger Road is 75’. So, why do the owners of Kinross, Peak Gold, Contango and Black Gold Transport think that they can drive 94’ 10.5” long trucks, fully loaded at 165,000 pounds, through Fairbanks? There are no routes that can be used for such trucks either safely or legally.
♣ Judy Ferguson’s Letter to the Editor in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:
To the Editor: When I first came to Alaska in 1968, gold was $43.50 an ounce. Six years earlier, the gold dredge age had just ended. The slender corridor of the Richardson Highway was my family’s lifeline to Fairbanks as it is today for Delta, Salcha, Dot Lake, Dry Creek, Tanacross, Tok, Tetlin and Northway. If Kinross Gold’s ore haul plan proceeds, Fairbanks residents will also share the Mitchell, Peger, Johansen and Steese with the behemoth trucks.However, eight rural communities have only the Richardson to reach advanced medical help, groceries and family. Concerned that our outlook is a Boeing-size 737 Kinross truck with 60 16-axle, 52-tire, 80+ tons and 60 empty 40-ton return double trailers, 120 per day every 10 minutes, likely driven by Lower 48 drivers, 24/7 365 days a year along with emergency vehicles, tourists, army convoys and snowplows for five years+, I called for a public meeting and contacted Advocates for Safe Alaska Highways (ASAH), a group of longtime Alaskans, who like me, were worried.
July 13, along with Delta former administrator Mary Leith, I hosted a public meeting against the Kinross ore haul plan. Sixty-five residents gathered at the Delta Community Center to hear each of the Fairbanks and Delta speakers. Among the three Delta speakers, trucker Bill Ward explained that from 2020 through 2021, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Kinross had meetings, sometimes including DOTPF. He added that as the Kinross-Tetlin mine became more known that a group of longtime Fairbanks residents concerned about our highways, formed ASAH.
I learned that the large international Canada-based Kinross Gold, owner of Fort Knox, has an open pit mine 19 miles east of Fox and has one of the few processing mills in the state. Recently, as manager and operator, Kinross has partnered at 70% with Contango Ore at 30% in the new Peak Gold, LLC with Tetlin.
Although a mill could’ve been built at Tetlin, Kinross preferred to truck the ore 250 miles to Fairbanks to extend the life of Fort Knox. There is no precedent for an industrial extraction company to not create its own haul road or to not pay a toll for the use of a state highway. The Red Dog Mine Road was built by Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) who charged Red Dog for the use thereof. It was a wise investment. To date, AIDEA has made a substantial amount over cost of construction.
Fort Knox is running out of gold and the permitting for mills takes years to obtain. Wishing to delay the phenomenally expensive and complicated restoration of its reputedly one-mile wide, one-mile deep pit, Kinross is actively recruiting feeder veins of the Interior’s gold, likely to extend to the old Lucky Shot Mine at Hatcher Pass.
Fairbanks engineer Jenny Campbell explained that Kinney Engineering, paid by DOTPF, has a year-long contract, to study the impacts of the Kinross ore hauling plan on the Alcan, Richardson and Steese. Because there is no precedent model for the huge trucks, Kinney must rely on the template of a conventional 2-trailer, 6-axle truck tested on dry summertime roads to predict possible crashes. “Even with that model, which is not analogous to the 16-axle trucks,” Campbell said, “Kinney predicts ten more crashes per year with the Kinross plan.”
In the fall of 2022, needing facts, retired lawyer Barbara Schuhmann submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to DOTPF, but was denied. She filed an appeal, and finally, in March 2023, a large document was released to ASAH. With Dunleavy and Kinross having gotten a 39-month lead time on the ore haul plan, ASAH created a petition to register the people’s objections. Campbell joined the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC), a group of 20 people, some of whom meet every two months with Kinney Engineering.
Schuhmann said this: “The Tetlin to Fort Knox corridor is about to face a paradigm shift. With an industrial ore haul going on 24/7, 365 days a year, there will be no break, no way to reorganize your plans to commute to doctors, to shop, to see family, to hunt, to recreate, no way to avoid a truck if you are on the road for any time. Those trucks will be running for the foreseeable future. We are talking mass. The ore trucks sit so high off the road that the bumper of an ordinary vehicle doesn’t meet it. In a collision, the smaller vehicle ends up under the trailer, with the top crushed or sliced off. If a bridge or section of the road fails, rural residents will have no way to go north.”
Ward pointed out that Alaska’s roads are not the interstates of the Lower 48. The Alcan, Richardson and Steese corridors have countless personal driveways and school bus pick-up stops, and are used by army convoys, emergency vehicles, school buses, tourists, and thousands of residents.
Campbell quoted a DOTPF engineer, slated to soon retire, explaining that 17 of the 39 bridges on the proposed corridor are not able to support the weight of the behemoth trucks that the public has yet to see. On his behest, one bridge now reads, “35 tons for emergency vehicles” (not “trucks,” traveling 120 times a day) and the other says, “41 tons” for same, clearly half the amount of the loaded Kinross trucks. Schuhmann explained, “Without very expensive overlay of thicker material on the Richardson from Delta to Salcha,” she predicts “the road will turn to gravel.”
On Feb. 15, 2023, DOTPF commissioner Ryan Anderson stated that planning had begun for replacing five bridges along the route, the Robertson, Johnson, Gerstle, Chena Flood Control north-bound, and Chena Hot Springs overpass northbound to the Steese. There is no timeline for any of these projects however, and costs are projected at $300-400 million.
Initially DOTPF promised sixteen passing lanes along the route (now downsized to a maximum of ten) and now recognizes the necessity of replacing the bridges. However, not long ago, on the front page of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Kinross stated that some of the trucks will roll as early as January 2024.
Ward said Kinross asked Carlile Transportation, Lynden Transport as well as Canadian and Outside trucking firms to contract with them, but all turned Kinross down. The result is that Kinross has partnered with Black Gold Transport for Kinross’ dispatching and maintenance yard while Kinross will own its own trucks and hire the drivers.
Ward speculated that many of the drivers will come from the Lower 48. He said he’s not so much afraid of the trucks “that no one has yet seen,” but more, of the drivers. They will be navigating through snowy conditions where visibility is often reduced to zero. Unfamiliar with the subarctic, these drivers will have to brake in time for school bus stops through multiple communities along two hundred fifty miles of two-lane highway. Every vehicle they pass will experience complete whiteout, through the sinuous Tenderfoot Canyon with its curves, damaged road, and downhill slopes.
Regarding the promised passing lanes and suggested bridge replacements, Campbell cited that KUAC recently aired a piece saying that construction bids for needed safety constraints are coming back much higher than DOTPF anticipated for projects across the state. They can’t afford to do any bridges any time soon. She added, “There’s a disconnect between what the roads are going to see and what the roads can handle.”
Ward added, “Different highways have varying weigh station requirements on lengths of 75 up to 120-feet. North of Fairbanks, the rate of length drops to 95-feet. Kinross scrunched the two trailers together, added two more axles under the bridge for a total of 16 axles and 52 tires, inventing a truck no one has ever seen before. These beasts may work in the summer, but they won’t work in the winter and further, our roads don’t have enough side rails.”
So far as numbers, in 2020, mining provided 4,700 jobs. In 2022, Kinross paid $240,000 to Tetlin and $13,610,000 to the Fairbanks North Star Borough and to the State of Alaska $4,960,000. The state’s real GDP in 2022 was $49.63 billion.
Schuhmann summed up the situation: “The Dunleavy-Kinross plan is unreasonably dangerous and there are alternatives.”
Governor Jay Hammond once said, “Industry has to pay its own way if they want access to Alaska’s minerals.”
Please consider signing a petition at the Advocates for Safe Highways booth at the Deltana Fair, July 21-23.