Photo by Alexis Bonogofsky, USFWS.
The Northern Alaska Environmental Center (Northern Center) acknowledges that we work throughout the unceded territories of the Indigenous Peoples of Alaska. We honor the ancestral and ongoing land and water stewardship and place-based knowledge of the Peoples of these territories. In 2022, the Governor of Alaska finally signed a bill recognizing the tribal sovereignty of Alaska tribes. Our organizational position on the Manh Choh mine project does not undermine the truth that the Native Village of Tetlin is a sovereign nation with ownership of their traditional lands and waters, including the surface and subsurface rights within their territory.
Manh Choh, meaning “big lake” in the Upper Tanana Athabascan language, refers to Tetlin Lake, a site of high cultural significance in the community of Tetlin. The Manh Choh gold mine, a joint project proposed by majority owner Kinross and Contango Ore, would operate between four and five years. The companies plan to process ore from Manh Choh at Fort Knox, over 250 miles away, claiming that this plan would “reduce the mine’s footprint.”
In reality, the Tetlin to Fort Knox transportation plan would burden the surrounding communities with noise, fugitive dust, water pollution from spills, increase air pollution, further compromise air quality in non-attainment zones, impact wildlife habitat, and require the storage and perpetual monitoring of acid-generating and heavy-metal leaching materials at a facility that does not, and is not currently permitted to, manage such waste. Kinross and Contango will not be held responsible for any costs resulting from their use of public roadways and the increased maintenance, construction, safety expenses, and environmental and infrastructural impacts associated with a higher volume of traffic and weight from the transport of hazardous materials.
The economic benefits Kinross and Contango claim this project would provide to the community are egregious: the companies and their stakeholders will be the primary beneficiaries–at the expense of stakeholders that have not been fully informed or engaged in the process of its development, especially in regards to environmental, cultural, social, and human health impacts.
Through public meetings and published community perspectives, the public has clearly expressed its opposition to this irresponsible transportation plan, as have the city councils of Fairbanks and North Pole, and the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly. A transportation plan of this scale is unprecedented in the US, and there is not sufficient data to show that this plan can operate without compromising the safety and well-being of communities. If approved, this plan would set a precedent for future industrial use of public roadways, and establish a model for Fairbanks to become a hub of industrial mining activity to the benefit of private, out-of-state corporations and to the detriment of the ecology, health, and quality of life for local communities.
The Northern Center does not oppose all mining in Alaska: our position remains that viable mining projects must produce needed minerals without harming culture, clean water, or a healthy environment. While we recognize that some mining produces minerals important to our society, extracting gold ore does not further climate or clean energy goals. We must consider resource development in a context of community well-being and social justice among communities in northern Alaska in order to support and enrich lives, communities, cultures, landscapes, and wildlife species that depend on these lands.
There are two current opportunities to share concerns about the Tetlin to Fort Knox Transportation Plan:
The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly is hearing Resolution 2023-13, opposing the transportation plan, at their meeting this Thursday, March 9th. You can comment in person by signing up before the meeting, or calling the borough clerk at 907-459-1401 to be added to the list of commenters. If you can’t attend in person, you can share your concerns by sending an email to Assembly@fnsb.gov or through the borough’s online contact form.
The State of Alaska released two draft decisions related to the Manh Choh gold mine project’s reclamation plan and waste management permit. We strongly encourage Northern Center members to submit comments sharing your concerns about this proposed project by March 13th.
The Northern Center will be engaging in the processes above by sharing the following concerns. We encourage you to consider these points in your personal comments:
- These permits only consider the impacts and reclamation of the mine site itself; they do not consider the majority of the footprint of the project including the transportation corridor and Ft. Knox
- Waste management does not consider spills along the transportation route or storage and management of waste material at Ft. Knox
- Manh Choh ore poses significant risk of acid-generation and heavy metal leaching; these permits only consider management of these materials at the mine site
- Ft. Knox is not currently permitted to manage and monitor acid-generating and heavy-metal leaching materials, which has not been considered in the waste management permit or the reclamation plan
- Pits at the mine site will be back-filled with waste rock and either covered with a liner, or filled with water to reduce oxidation of the ore; while this reduces the chances of acid-generation and heavy-metal leaching, chances of groundwater pollution from these water bodies remains significant, and poses threats to the water quality of surrounding habitat and the nearby Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge
- Current management plans at Manh Choh suggest no additional permitting requirements or monitoring on the part of Ft. Knox to manage or monitor acid-generation and heavy metal leaching, despite significant amounts of material being transported and stored off-site
- These permits only require water quality monitoring for 5 years post-mine closure; this is insufficient as acid-generating and heavy-metal leaching storage must be monitored in perpetuity to ensure the materials are not contaminating the surrounding environment
We will continue to share information and updates about this project in our biweekly newsletter by email.