News-Miner opinion: The traditional gift on a 20th anniversary is china, but for Kinross Fort Knox Gold Mine, every anniversary is golden. This year, the massive open-pit mine north of Fairbanks poured its 7 millionth ounce of gold, a milestone the company initially thought it might never reach. For two decades, the mine has been a major employer for the Interior. New techniques and prospects may yet push its lifespan further than expected.
The claim to the land where Fort Knox now sits was originally staked more than 100 years ago, in 1913. But though other nearby lands close to Fox were subject to heavy placer and dredge mining during Fairbanks’ early decades, the Fort Knox land sat idle until it was restaked in 1980 and purchased in 1992 by Amax Gold.
Construction on the mine began in 1995, and the next year, it poured its first bar of gold. In 1998, Amax merged with Toronto-based Kinross Gold Co., and in the 18 years since, millions more ounces of gold have been poured at the mine.
Though it has become the largest producer of gold in Alaska history, the lifecycle of the mine was originally envisioned to be considerably shorter. Fort Knox is now many years past its original design plan, which would have seen mining end in 2008, according to Eric Hill, the mine’s general manager.
Current plans are to have mining operations extend through at least 2020, and new techniques for gold production and potential areas for exploration mean that the mine will remain a local fixture for some time to come. A heap-leaching operation that started in 2009 is helping the mine extract more gold from lower-grade ore, a technique that now accounts for about 40 percent of total production at the mine.
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