With construction of the Amphitrac delayed, the Tulsequah Mine operator is looking at replacing the amphibious tow vessel it proposed to use on the Taku River.
Salina Landstad, spokeswoman for Redfern Resources Ltd., said Amphitrac construction wouldn't be ready in time to start using it in late fall because of problems getting supplies. She said the vehicle had not been abandoned completely.
Since the mine's transportation plan was unveiled last year, fishermen and other Taku users have been concerned that the new vehicle might hurt the Taku's sensitive habitat.
The Tulsequah Chief multimetal mine is 45 miles northeast of Juneau, on the Tulsequah River, a tributary of the Taku. Redfern is wholly owned by Vancouver, British Columbia-based Redcorp Ventures Ltd.
The Amphitrac was designed with steel screws to use on ice, Archimedes' screws to propel itself through water and large soft tires like a tundra-traveling Rolligon to roll over land.
The vessel was invented to pull or push Redfern's hoverbarge only when there is ice on the river in the late fall, winter and early spring. The state of Alaska required two permits to ensure that the transportation system during those months wouldn't harm sensitive habitat.
Redfern applied for those permits last year. The process was suspended until the company responded to state permitters' questions. That permit application is based on an operations plan involving the Amphitrac.
State permitters have not received any modifications to the permit application so far, said Tom Crafford, large mine permitting coordinator. He said that without knowing what would replace the Amphitrac, he was unsure how the change would affect the state's permit process.
"We'd have to see how that compares with what they've provided previously," he said. "If it's a major departure, it could require stepping back a considerable ways."
Landstad said it was premature to describe any of the vehicles being considered or say how many would be used at once.
"We haven't decided which ones we're going to proceed with," she said.
Whatever vehicles end up being used must have the same "characteristics and abilities" as the Amphitrac to get across various substrates and comply with environmental permits, according to Landstad.
Crafford said he heard of four possible vehicles - two wheeled and two with tracks - in a discussion with Canadian permitters and the company on Tuesday. He said he had not had a chance to query Redfern about them yet.
One was the Bandvagn 206, made by BAE Land Systems. That is an amphibious, tracked, all-terrain carrier invented to take Swedish soldiers over snow and through bogs.
News that the Amphitrac wouldn't make it to the Taku this fall didn't reassure Chris Zimmer, a Juneau-based activist with Rivers Without Borders who has closely followed the issue.
The same questions remain for the Amphitrac's replacement vehicles, he said. Like state permitters, he's waiting for more answers from Redfern.
"Can this vehicle safely maneuver with its cargo? What effects will it have on salmon habitat? What effects will it have on ice?" he asked. "I think the company is going to have a real tough job satisfying everyone's concerns."
Contact reporter Kate Goldenat 523-2276 or e-mail email@example.com.
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