FAIRBANKS - The Fort Knox Mine outside Fairbanks is planning major exploration and expansion in 2009 despite the woes of the economy, according to the mine's general manager.
Larry Radford told the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday that the gold mine is hiring about five heavy equipment operators per month and is carrying through with salary increases.
"We're going a bit counter-trend from the rest of the world," he said.
The holding of Kinross Gold Corp. plans to spend about $10 million this year on exploration. Most will be centered at Fort Knox, although some work is anticipated at other sites in interior and southwest Alaska, Radford said.
Digging in earnest at Fort Knox began 13 years ago and company officials estimated a mine life span of a decade. Recent land exchanges and successful permitting have extended that estimate through 2015 and Radford said he expected new exploration would add additional years.
"We've had great success drilling off to the west and extending the mine life," Radford said. "We're here for the long term, and we're making that happen through great investment."
The mine employs 500.
The expansion has added high-ticket items to the mine equipment inventory, including a multimillion dollar Hitachi shovel and new 240-ton haul trucks with tires that cost about $30,000 apiece.
Managers have commissioned a new, larger heap-leach facility to separate carbon from rock and strip gold from the carbon. They also have invested in a $1 million simulator to train new employees in operating haul trucks, which stand about two stories off the ground.
Radford said mine managers are tracking progress closely at Livengood, where junior exploration company International Tower Hills has struck gold.
"We believe in what they're doing, and we believe what they're saying," Radford said. A future partnership to develop the property is a possibility, he said.