FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Department of Natural Resources has approved the expansion of the True North gold mine north of Fairbanks.
The agency also said Wednesday that the mine's existing haul road does not hurt winter tourism.
The mine is located in the Cleary Summit area between the Steese and Elliott highways about 30 miles north of Fairbanks, near several facilities that cater to aurora borealis-viewing tourists in the winter.
A group of area resident, called Neighborhood Mine Watch, filed an appeal last year of the mine's construction.
The group complained about lights and noise from trucks that carry ore from the mine 24 hours a day. Residents said the trucks disrupt sleep as well as tourism businesses that cater to visitors who want to view the northern lights.
Superior Court Judge Charles Pengilly ruled earlier this year that the state had neglected to conduct a proper economic study on the right-of-way permit for the mine's 10-mile ore haul road.
Pengilly remanded the decision back to DNR with orders to conduct the study.
On Wednesday, the results of that study were released, with DNR concluding that the potential economic impact of the lights, noise and dust of ore trucks on the haul road on tourist numbers was not enough to offset the positive economic impact of the mine.
The study found that, while tourist numbers declined precipitously over the winter of 2001-02, the majority of the loss was due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
''Other aurora-viewing locations report a similarly steep loss,'' the report said.
The study concluded that the millions of dollars paid by the mine in taxes and other fees, as well as the jobs created and other indirect economic impacts, outweigh the possible loss of tourists to Cleary Summit-area businesses.
It also noted that such losses could be offset by increases in other areas if tourists choose to book accommodations elsewhere in the borough during the life of the mine.
The agency also authorized the mine's expansion of operations to tap additional gold reserves discovered during 2001, digging a total of three new pits to go with the existing two. Two of the new pits would be contiguous to an existing one, in effect forming one larger pit. The expansion would increase the mine's operations by about 600 acres and extend its life by about a year to 18 months to a total of more than four years.
The mine has been in operation since March 2001.
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