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Redfern files new Taku barge plan with Canadians

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The owners of the Tulsequah Chief mine submitted a new plan to Canadian permitters last week that replaces a controversial amphibious concept vehicle for its Taku River barge operations.

The new plan replaces the Amphitrac, a vehicle that was invented specially for the Taku, with five kinds of existing amphibious vehicles. Work on the Amphitrac was suspended this year after the company ran into snags: high costs and delays in construction.

Redfern Resources, owned by Vancouver, British Columbia-based Redcorp Ventures, owns the Tulsequah Chief, a multimetal mine on the Tulsequah River that is 40 miles northeast of Juneau. Redfern expects the mine to produce for eight years.

When the Taku is icy, Redfern will load 100 and 450 tons of supplies or mineral concentrate onto a hoverbarge, also called an air cushion barge, which cannot propel itself. It will be pulled by two vehicles with tracks like tanks, and pushed by two Rolligons with large soft rubber tires. A person in another tracked vehicle, a Swiss Hagglunds BV206, will supervise operations. The barge and its tow vessels will travel over ice in the winter and cross open leads in the water.

All of these vehicles produce ground pressure less than 5 psi, according to plans Redfern furnished to British Columbia's Environmental Assessment Office.

Redfern also intends to hold onto its permit for a road from the mine to Atlin, British Columbia, in case the barge plan doesn't work out, according to public documents.

Alaska officials are still waiting for information they requested in February on the hoverbarge-plus-Amphitrac barging system. They require Redfern to prove its vessels will not hurt the river's sensitive habitat during times of low water and ice.

"We have not had any formal communications from Redcorp," said Tom Crafford, large mine permitting coordinator at the Department of Natural Resources.

Redfern spokeswoman Salina Landstad said the company would turn in its response in the "very near future."

Habitat Division biologist Jackie Timothy traveled to Vancouver this week to sit in on discussions on the Canadian permitting process, which covers the mine itself as well as the Taku transportation.

The new transportation plan calls for one barge crew at a time on the Taku. In the winter, open leads will take 15 minutes to cross, the company estimated. Depending on how many open leads there are, Redfern estimates the barge's round trip will take between 18 and 32 hours, at a speed of up to 3.7 miles per hour on ice and snow. The snow in the hoverbarge's path will be groomed.

The plans call for an environmental monitor, not full-time but in an "audit function."

The company plans to test the hoverbarge - called the Monty - first at the shipyard in Portland, Ore., then in Juneau for Alaska permitters and the public. All the vehicles are scheduled to be delivered to Juneau by the end of September.

Redfern doesn't need special permits to use the river in the summer, when the Taku is a navigable waterway. Conventional barging started this month and will continue until roughly October, Landstad said.

By then Redfern plans to have brought all the supplies it will need for the next six weeks; barge operations will halt while stable river ice forms, but mine operations will continue.

British Columbia permitters are taking comments from the public from both sides of the border from June 30 to July 30.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.



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