Judge orders state to study effects of True North gold mine

Posted: Friday, April 05, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A Fairbanks Superior Court judge has ordered the Department of Natural Resources to study what effect the True North gold mine may be having on neighboring tourism businesses.

The decision by Judge Charles Pengilly stems from an appeal by Neighborhood Mine Watch of the gold mine's state permits.

Mara Bacsujlaky, executive director of Neighborhood Mine Watch, calls the decision a clear victory.

''It supports what we've been saying all along -- that the state of Alaska failed to take a hard look at the impacts that would result from year-round, around-the-clock industrial ore hauling,'' Bacsujlaky said.

The ruling does not shut down the mine, located 30 miles north of Fairbanks, said Bob Loeffler, director of the Department of Natural Resources' Division of Mining, Land and Water.

In early 2001, Neighborhood Mine Watch filed an appeal over the state right-of-way permits issued in December 2000 to Fairbanks Gold Mining, which owns the True North mine.

Last March, Fairbanks Gold finished construction on the True North project, which included building a 10-mile ore haul road between True North and Fairbanks Gold's mill at the company's Fort Knox mine. Sixty-ton trucks haul ore to the Fort Knox mill 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

That has been the heart of the problem, said Bacsujlaky and mine neighbors. Lights and noise from the ore trucks are driving customers away from Cleary Summit aurora-watching businesses, Bacsujlaky and business owners say. The state didn't give proper weight to those impacts before issuing the permits, Bacsujlaky said.

Pengilly agreed.

''This oversight is fatal and requires a remand so that competing economic interests can be appropriately evaluated and considered,'' he wrote.

Loeffler said the state did an economic impact analysis before issuing the permits. That's why the state imposed light and noise level standards and asked that Fairbanks Gold move the ore haul road away from neighbors, he said.

The division will conduct another analysis as ordered, Loeffler said. It may lead to the same conclusions, or it could possibly restrict the times the mine may move its gold ore, he said.

Chuck Johnson, a frequent mine critic and owner of Cleary Summit Bed & Breakfast, said he hopes the ruling will result in restriction of hours.

''They could mine around the clock but haul ore 12 hours a day,'' he said.

Tom Irwin, vice president of Fairbanks Gold, has said that a reduced schedule would not be economical for the mine.

About 360 people work for Fairbanks Gold Mining, with 100 of them at True North, he said. The mine is one of the largest payers of property taxes in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

Irwin believes that the state will come to the same conclusions with its new study.

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