FAIRBANKS - Angry residents of Cleary Summit watched from their homes Thursday as bulldozers cut a swath through trees and brush to make way for the Interior's newest mine.
Fairbanks Gold Mining began clearing the land about 30 miles north of Fairbanks shortly after gaining U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' approval to begin construction of the True North gold mine project.
"We think we've been steamrolled," said Chuck Johnson, co-owner of Cleary Summit Bed and Breakfast.
Residents and area businesses, concerned about loss of quality of life and commerce, exhausted final appeals to the state when the Department of Natural Resources issued permits last week. Fairbanks Gold had to wait until Wednesday for corps permits to begin construction.
The state, the corps and Fairbanks Gold insist concerns have been addressed adequately through a thorough and comprehensive public process. They say they have done all they can to lessen the impact of mining activity on nearby residents.
The neighbors, along with Neighborhood Mine Watch, an Ester group, met with an attorney from the Trustees for Alaska on Monday to consider their next course of action. They have until Feb. 19 to appeal to Superior Court.
"I don't want to talk about that right now," Johnson said. "That's going to cost us more money and puts us at jeopardy if we lose."
Johnson's biggest concern is noise levels, which he believes will be intrusive. The mine was given permission to operate 24 hours a day. Johnson believes the noise will interrupt sleep for him and his family, as well as his bed and breakfast customers.
Johnson and Steve Birdsall, who owns Skiland, a downhill ski area, say the state chose a faulty noise level standard and ignored two reports that said noise would affect neighbors significantly.
State officials denied the charges, saying indoor noise levels would be comparable to a refrigerator, and outdoor noise would be the level of normal conversations.
Additionally, the 60-ton ore trucks will be fitted with special mufflers and be monitored by an independent third-party company.
All equipment has been outfitted with backup strobe lights instead of audible signals, said Tom Irwin, Fairbanks Gold general manager. Also, construction shacks have been moved from sight.
"We're trying to do everything we can to minimize any impact," Irwin said.
True North is expected to employ 110 people for three years, mining 500,000 ounces of gold. The ore will be processed at the company's Fort Knox mill. The project will cost $25 million to construct.