Mine operator Redfern Resources Ltd. reapplied to the state this week to operate a barge with amphibious tow vessels on the Taku River in icy months.
Redfern wants to transport zinc, lead and copper concentrate from the Tulsequah Chief mine, about 40 miles northeast of Juneau, down the Taku River to Juneau. Barges traveling in the other direction will carry supplies, according to the company.
At first glance, a state official already has questions.
"Just from what I've looked at, I don't think it's complete," said Joe Donohue of the Alaska Coastal Management Program, who is coordinating the permit review.
The Tulsequah Chief mine is on the Tulsequah River, a tributary of the Taku. Redfern is wholly owned by Vancouver, British Columbia-based Redcorp Ventures Ltd.
Redfern applied last November to the state to use an air-cushion barge, also called a hoverbarge, to avoid breaking ice. The barge would be pushed and pulled by at least one Amphitrac, an amphibious concept vehicle designed for the Taku.
But developing the Amphitrac was delayed and expensive, and in May the company announced it was looking at other options.
The new plan calls for pushing and pulling a hoverbarge with a combination of smaller amphibious vehicles.
The state requires two permits, for travel over land and water, to ensure that the sensitive habitat of the Taku in winter will be protected.
State permitters said in July the change in plan was different enough that it would require a new permit application.
That last permit process had been suspended since February; the state was waiting for Redfern to tell it more about how the barge system would work and how it would affect habitat.
State permitters from the Department of Natural Resources Division of Land and the Department of Fish and Game Division of Habitat will meet next week to discuss whether they'll need to ask Redfern for more information.
Donohue said at first glance the new package appeared to lack the same kinds of information as the last one.
"All we've really done is change the vehicles," he said.
Once the state has all the information it needs, it will hold a public meeting. The last meeting, in February, drew more than 200 people. Donohue is expecting keen public interest.
He noted that the public meeting would be scheduled after most fishermen had come back from fishing grounds.
"It's pretty important that our fishing fleet's able to respond to this," he said.
The state posts new documents in the permit application at: www.dnr.state.ak.us/mlw/mining/largemine/tulsequah/publicnotice.htm.