Parking a big gold dredge can be a problem
Parking a 205- foot gold dredging barge for the winter can be a problem.
Andrew Lee of Tagiuk Gold has been working on a solution for his Tagiuk Provider, a 1,500-ton ice-class barge he brought up to Nome from Puget Sound this summer.
“We haven’t been mining with it yet,” said Lee, interviewed on the beach six miles northwest of the port at West Beach. The barge stood offshore, waiting for weather conditions to improve so it could be moved up the beach. “It’s a new operation. We just brought it up at the end of the year so we could do some on-site systems testing and then haul it out and make any changes,” Lee said.
“We purchased the barge from Crowley,” he said. “They used the barge for Arctic Explorations as an oil spill response vessel. We added some stuff to the deck of the barge but the barge itself is pretty much unchanged. It’s an ice class barge designed to be used in the Arctic. Originally it was a fuel barge. It’s all half-inch steel and it has thirty different separate voids.”
Last week the plan was to pull the vessel up the beach and onto private property. “There are land anchors, called deadheads, that are buried. These pneumatic roller bags are going to be placed underneath the barge and we’ll connect the towline to a D8 cat, pull the barge partway up on shore, inflate the bags, and start rolling it up,” Lee described.
It would be the largest barge pulled out in Nome. But as of Monday the plan has changed.
“The Port has approved me to park in the harbor,” said Lee on Monday. “I’m waiting on insurance to adjust my insurance policy to expressly cover freeze-in.” At the time he was contacted by phone he was pushing the barge toward the Port of Nome. Once he gets to the port a second vessel was going to escort them into the outer harbor.
“There are a number of locations in the port, in the outer harbor, the Snake River, and the inner harbor that historically in the past have wintered barges and other types of vessels in the water,” said Harbormaster Lucas Stotts.
“In recent years we haven’t allowed it anywhere and there has been discussion with Andrew on allowing him in certain spots. He has to put that plan together and sell us on it and make sure all safety contingencies and plans are followed and laid out and then show we’ve got insurance covering the whole operation and then we’ll either bless him or not.”
Stotts added that because of low water and ice formation the outer harbor may be the only possibility.
In the near future the barges used in gold mining will be getting bigger. Two more —even bigger than the Tagiuk Provider — are scheduled to arrive next summer.
“When I started those are my two small dredges there, very small, 20-foot dredges,” said Andrew Lee, indicating two dredges sitting on the yard above the beach. “They can’t handle very much sea so typically we could only get 40 days in per year, maybe 300 hours of dive time in.” He explained that the more accessible gold has been mined out and so the trend will be toward larger dredges, which are more efficient cost wise. “These diver operated dredges are becoming much less efficient. The only thing that saved them for the last ten years has been the gold prices have been higher. If the gold prices were still four or five hundred dollars, people wouldn’t make any money. But as the gold dwindled the prices went up. So that was lucky for the Nome gold mining fleet.”
The Tagiuk Provider has a giant, 20-yard level cut environmental clamshell. It can go as low as 300 feet, although Lee’s leases go down only to around 75 feet. “But we’re going to stick to mostly 65 feet of water depth,” he said. “Forty-five to 65 feet, which is deeper than most other operations. There are only a couple other operations that can go that deep.”
The Nugget asked Lee about profitability in gold mining in Nome. “There’s several different classes of miners in the Nome fleet,” he replied. “There’s a lot of people who enjoy it as a hobby. It pays the bills. It pays for itself. There are a few who do subsistence mining, as we call it. They feed themselves but they’re not getting rich. They’d probably make more working at Walmart as a greeter. And then there’s a small number of the fleet that makes good decent livings. To be in that professional class it really takes the right equipment and the right attitude, and the right skill set. And good ground. And experience.”