By Dermot Cole
The state press release printed in the News-Miner that appears under the name of Transportation Commissioner Ryan Anderson is a well-massaged committee project that conceals far more than it reveals.
Under Anderson, the transportation department has acted like a business partner of Kinross, not a government agency looking out for the public. The press release peddles the illusion of independence where there is none.
Anderson owes his job to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who has made it clear that he doesn’t want to hear the word “no” about the Kinross trucking plan.
Dunleavy wants to hear yes. “There’s too much ‘no,’” Dunleavy said. “No trucks on the road from Tetlin to Fort Knox, no West Susitna Access Road, no Ambler Road, no King Cove Road. No timber, no logging in the Tongass. No this. No that.”
“I need Alaska to say yes to everything,” is how Dunleavy puts it.
Saying yes to everything from Kinross is what this is all about. It should have been easier to get this project going, Dunleavy said during the golden shovel ceremony in August.
Anderson has even adopted the Kinross tactic of referring to the Steese Highway bridge over Chena Hot Springs Road and the Chena Flood Control bridge in North Pole as “deficient” because they are not built to withstand the fully loaded Kinross trucks.
The Anderson press release doesn’t mention Dunleavy’s name or the political pressure from the governor to never say no. Or that the state has invested $10 million in public funds in the project through the Alaska Permanent Fund.
The state has claimed it is not a partner with Kinross. In a disingenuous FAQ that has since been removed from the state’s website, DOTPF says it is not “partnering” with Kinross. Technically that is true.
The Alaska Future Fund, operated for the Permanent Fund by the global investment giant Barings, would not have put $10 million of state money into Contango ORE two years ago—after Kinross bought into the trucking plan—without getting clear signals of support from the Dunleavy administration.
The $10 million invested by the state was to help fund exploration and development of the Manh Choh project, according to Contango ORE, the junior partner with Kinross.
To have invested that money without knowing in advance how the governor and his administration would treat the trucking proposal would have been reckless on the part of Barings.
Anderson’s committee press release wants us to believe that the state is impartial.
“Our laws and regulations require that we address proposed highway uses fair and objectively, and that we don’t distinguish between commercial users of the state’s highway system,” the Anderson committee said.
The Kinross plan is not a commercial use, however. It’s an industrial use. There are rules and regulations associated with classifying something as an industrial use highway, which is what should happen here, but Kinross wants to avoid that at all costs, so it hasn’t asked for that designation.
State transportation employees understand this.
“Recently people have been contacting us about this corridor because of the proposed increased industrial use of the highway,” DOTPF said on a page that has since been removed from the state website.
The state FAQs, which have also been removed from the state website, are an accurate reflection of the persistent passive attitude the Dunleavy administration has taken.
Excessive passivity is the means by which the state has carried out Dunleavy’s directive to say yes to Kinross.
Instead of examining the Kinross proposal, Anderson’s department stayed on the sidelines. The impact study that Anderson’s press release mentions, yet to be finished, was a Dunleavy reelection campaign necessity for political cover.
Sitting back and waiting for something to happen has been the preferred approach.
“Kinross has not shared a formal proposal with us yet, we are very interested in looking at it once it has been formalized,” DOTPF said on Feb. 25, 2022.
As recently as January, Anderson’s department was telling the public, “While Kinross and DOT&PF have had preliminary conversations about their plans to haul ore from Tetlin to Fort Knox beginning 2024, Kinross has not shared a formal or final proposal at this time.”
By March, the department was saying, “Kinross has informed DOT&PF of their intent to haul ore from Tetlin to Fort Knox (see Questions 3 and 13 on trucking route and route through Fairbanks area). They have provided a configuration of a 95-foot double trailer. DOT&PF has confirmed on paper this is a legal load per Alaska law on the route proposed, but highway weights and dimensions are confirmed as legal once measured and inspected when driving on state highways.”
Reprinted with permission of the author.