SOME ‘NORMAL’ TRAVEL RESTRICTION NEWS, FOR A CHANGE: Heavy machinery now occupying ‘industrial’ path between Longyearbyen and Svea as dismantling of mine continues

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So it’s hard enough to get to Svalbard during peak snowmobiling season this year thanks to COVID-19 restrictions and it’s possible some of most-popular areas will be off-limits to scooters soon to protect wildlife. Time to add another steely blockade of sorts – heavy construction equipment along the main path between Longyearbyen and Svea as work crews continue a years-long dismantling of the mining settlement.

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A map shows a path between Adventdalen and Svea established for snowmobiles this spring. Heavy equipment will also be transported in the valleys until mid-May, so officials are advising snowmobilers to keep within view of vehicles drivers and only pass when paths are wide enough or the driver signals. Map by the Norwegian Polar Institute.

The heavy machinery (often towing more heavy machinery to be used for the dismantling) set out along the path between Todalen and Svea starting Wednesday and is scheduled to continue operating until mid-May, according to a statement by Hæhre Arctic, which has been contracted by Store Norske for the transport.

The equipment will be driven through the same valleys used by snowmobiles for those who remain interested in seeing the mining settlement, although it no longer hosts visitors. Consequently, Hæhre Arctic is advising snowmobilers to keep to the side of transport vehicles when encountered, and to wait for either a wide enough path or a signal from the driver to pass.

The path differs from a long-used route for the stretch across a glacier between Höganäs and Svea, which is now designated as a construction-only zone that can be traveled only with permission from Store Norske. The new snowmobile trail taking a different route, according to a press release by the company, “essentially follows the same line in the terrain as the previous year.”

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A bulldozer tows a dump truck along Slakbreen during the spring of 2020 in order to assist with the dismantling of Svea. Photo courtesy of Hæhre Arctic.

“We cannot refuse people who want to drive to Svea and, since we do not want people on the construction route from Svea Nord, we have made a new trail to Gustavdalen,” Gudmund Løvli, Store Norske’s project manager, told Svalbardposten.

While the trail is marked with posts on both sides where the are new crevasses since last year, there are natural hazards along the route and people travel it at their own risk, according to the company’s press statement.

“At the pass at the top of Slakbreen/Sjaktbreen and Varpbreen/Gustavdalen there were several new and relatively wide, longitudinal cracks after the glacier ‘released’ from the mountainsides as a result of the hot summer last year,” the statement notes. “The cracks have been filled in, and snow bridges have been established along the route.”