By Philip Marshall
The more we know, the more we don’t know. Given all the new information that’s been surfacing lately regarding the Kinross ore haul, I thought it couldn’t get much worse. Here’s why:
● A plugged-up Peger Road with an intersection at Airport Way that, even without an ore haul, records the highest crashes per mile in our Fairbanks North Star Borough.
● Potentially acid-generating ore being brought in from the Tetlin area to Fort Knox at the rate of 5,000 tons per day probably for decades and likely contaminating forever the Fort Knox tailings and settling basins’ deposits while threatening downriver populations.
● The use of prototypical 164,900-pound ore haul tandem- trailers with no credible testing or public plans for testing under arctic conditions, including stopping and starting distance analysis.
● A complete 72-mile resurfacing of the Richardson Highway from the Eielson Air Force Base gate to Delta plus the lower Steese Highway for at least 8.2 miles from the weigh scale, all costing tens of millions of precious Department of Transportation Northern Region highway funds to accommodate the weight and frequency (192 transits per day) of the proposed haul.
● The recent admission by the state DOT that there are at least five major bridges (two right in our back yard) which will require expensive “hurry-up” replacements at an unknown cost but estimated at $300-$500 million.
● And despite numerous requests, an absence of alogical, detailed and safe plan to accommodate 110 school bus stops along the route every school day of winter.
All these factors and more are pointing to a pending disaster, the results of which will be as unforgettable as they are unforgivable.
But on March 21, 2023, it did get worse. At the meeting of the DOT Corridor Study Committee (by the way, just the second meeting since it was agreed to some 14 months ago at an in-person meeting with Gov. Mike Dunleavy that such a corridor study would be undertaken), more bad news surfaced when Patrick Filbin, the Fort Knox mine manager, announced, ’’There will be a ‘breakdown yard’ somewhere in Fox so the
doubles can be turned into singles to be hauled up to the mill.” After the meeting, when asked about his statement, he replied, “It’s on our website … .” It might be today, but it wasn’t on March 21, 2023.
That was quite a surprise because at a recent Fairbanks City Council meeting Kinross said they were going “mine to mill” with 95-foot (164,900 pound) doubles. They testified that no breakdown yard would be part of the still-yet-to-be-made-public ore transport plan as required by state regulations and embedded in an EPA letter on Feb. 11, 2022, to the Corp of Engineers, which today remains unanswered.
So, what does that mean if you work, live or love along the 8.2 miles leading northeast from the Fox weigh station up and around the infamous Skoogy Gulch curve on the way to Cleary Summit? It maybe will look like this: One sunny Sunday you and the family, and throw in grandma, too, are just going up the hill to ski at Ski Land, or hike, or at night watch the aurora. Neighbor, you’d better be ready because every 3 minutes and 45 seconds you’re going to have a 35- or 60-ton semi with a trailer in your face, on your tail, or at the end of your driveway intersection Just passing by at 50 mph. And it’s not just winters, it’s every hour of every day and every season likely for decades.
When you look up the word “unsafe” in the dictionary, its definition fits this unprecedented and untested ore haul. If you concur, then write Gov. Dunleavy, borough Mayor Bryce Ward and your legislators saying stop this dramatic change in our treasured quality of life which we all have worked so hard to create, enhance and enjoy. Tell them that there are genuine alternatives to the presently configured ore haul that
still support and protect our mining tradition, promote economic development and keep us safe at the same time. Let us hope these leaders have the flexibility and vision to examine these alternatives. Then, if they agree, make rational decisions benefiting Alaskans, their families and our welcome visitors first, and the bottom line of avisiting corporation second.
Philip Marshall is a retired geologist who has lived for the past 42 years above Coldstream Valley and at Cleary-Summit.