This story was co-published with Alaska Public Media.
A dusting of snow clings to the highway as Barbara Schuhmann drives around a hairpin curve near her home in Fairbanks, Alaska. She slows for a patch of ice, explaining that the steep turn is just one of many concerns she has about a looming project that could radically transform Alaskan mining as the state begins looking beyond oil.
Roughly 250 miles to the southeast, plans are developing to dig an open-pit gold mine called Manh Choh, or “big lake” in Upper Tanana Athabascan. Kinross Alaska, the majority owner and operator, will haul the rock on the Alaska Highway and other roads to a processing mill just north of Fairbanks. The route follows the Tanana River across Alaska’s interior, where spruce-covered foothills knuckle below the stark peaks of the Alaska Range. Snowmelt feeds the creeks that form a mosaic of muskeg in nearby Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, a migration corridor for hundreds of bird species.