State seeks millions from mining company for highway damage

Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The state Department of Transportation has sued Yellow Eagle Mining Co., charging that a mining pit dug by the Canadian company is causing millions of dollars of damage to a stretch of the Parks Highway near Ester.

The state is seeking what could amount to more than $9 million in damages. In addition the state wants to make those responsible fix the problem or secure court permission for the Department of Transportation to remedy the problem. The suit was filed March 5 against Yellow Eagle and several shareholders, officers and associated companies, as well as Walter Wigger, who owns the land on which the pit was dug.

Yellow Eagle excavated the roughly 95-foot-deep pit as part of a short-lived mining and tourism operation, which has been closed down in October 1999.

The state accuses Yellow Eagle of not undertaking proper study before digging the pit. As a result, the lawsuit contends, the slope of the pit was too steep. The excavation struck the water table and flooded, resulting in the substantial collapse of the pit in September 1999. The state claims the appearance of large cracks in a 300-foot stretch of the highway adjacent to the mining operation is a result of the land underneath slowly settling and shifting toward the pit.

''We're still getting degradation there and sloughing,'' DOT engineer David McCaleb said. ''It has to be cured.''

Joel Craft, Fairbanks-area manager for the DOT, said crews had to patch cracks on the portion of road on at least a biweekly basis last summer, and are working at the same pace since breakup this year.

''We've converted it to gravel because it was just getting out of control,'' he said. According to court records, the cost of repairs has already exceeded $1 million.

If Yellow Eagle declines to fix the problem, the state wants access to the land in order to fix the problem by means of a stone buttress that would shore up the side of the pit. The state has argued that such a construction project would need to be undertaken this summer to prevent further complications.

''What may cost $4 or $5 million this year may cost considerably more if the road and nearby homes and buildings are destroyed, not to mention the cost to Fairbanks residences and businesses if traffic on the Parks Highway is disrupted or halted for any significant length of time,'' assistant district attorney Gary Gantz wrote in a court filing.

In order to build the buttress this summer, the state has filed for an emergency hearing to request permission from the court to enter and work on the property.

Yellow Eagle agreed to grant the state access to the property in order to construct the buttress, provided it is built on the state's right-of-way. But state officials said the concession does little good as the buttress needs to be built on the Yellow Eagle site.

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