State regulators at the Department of Natural Resources asked Redfern Resources Ltd. this week for more information about its transportation plans for the Tulsequah Chief Mine, delaying the end of the public comment period.
The comment period for the Alaska Coastal Management Program consistency review was to end Feb. 21. Now it has been suspended. The clock for public comments will not begin ticking again until Redfern responds to the state's second request for more information, and the state says that response is adequate.
Redfern proposes using a hoverbarge up the Taku River to bring supplies to the multi-metal mine in Canada, about 40 miles northeast of Juneau. When conditions allow, the barge would be moved by a shallow-draft tug. In the winter or in other difficult conditions, the barge would be moved by a new vehicle called an Amphitrac.
The state's biggest concern is that Redfern would allow the company to test the barge system on the gravel bars off Sheep Creek, south of Juneau, or at Eagle River beach, north of Juneau, the Division of Mining Lands and Water said in a Feb. 14 letter to Redfern.
That will happen only after the barge system is tested and certified by a third party, the American Bureau of Shipping. The certification will include the maximum tonnage the barge can carry. At the moment, Redfern has projected it can transport 700 tons.
The state is requiring the Alaska test because there will be no snow and ice on the Columbia River, where the barge will be undergoing other tests.
"We don't see it being used anywhere similar to this," said Joe Donohue, the Alaska Coastal Management Program project specialist who signed the state's Feb. 14 letter to Redfern.
The state also suggested that the $250,000 bond proposed to cover accidents with the hoverbarge might not be enough, and asked Redfern to break down the costs of a theoretical salvage effort.
The state's letter included requests for more information regarding:
The width and depth of the Taku River, partly because the company's observations last year occurred during record-high waters.
How the vehicles' disturbance in the river would be tested and monitored.
Redfern's wildlife management, including its right-of-way policy.
Redfern's conclusion that glacial outburst floods will not affect the barge operations significantly.
Redfern needs two state permits and the ongoing Alaska Coastal Management Program consistency review to use the vehicles on the Taku River.