The release of the draft environmental impact statement for a proposed road to the Ambler Mining District North of Fairbanks continues to draw concern from environmental groups.
The Ambler Road Project is a proposed 211-mile road that would connect the Ambler Mining District in Northwest Alaska with the Dalton Highway and Fairbanks. After some problems with funding, the project was taken over by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which completed a proposal for the road several years ago.
The project has been in the works since 2014, drawing heavy criticism from Interior Alaska residents concerned about increased access to traditional hunting and fishing grounds, along with an increased risk of industrial contamination. AIDEA applied in March 2017 for the EIS process to begin.
Now, the Bureau of Land Management has released a draft environmental impact statement, looking into possible effects of constructing such a road.
The exact route of the road, either through or around Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, is still undecided.
One other route noted in the draft would begin north of the Yukon River bridge, near milepost 60 of the Dalton Highway, and would continue northwest for about 330 miles before ending near the Ambler River. This would put Fairbanks an additional 20 miles from the end of the Ambler road, placing the end of the road 476 miles away from Fairbanks as opposed to the 456 miles drawn out in the AIDEA plan.
The BLM has said the longer route would be more than 50% longer than AIDEA’s proposed route and would, in turn, create more possible impacts to the environment, according to the draft.
The BLM has noted the road would be gravel and use a toll system to ensure the path was used only for mining activity. Through the toll system, AIDEA has said, the group would finance the road, which is estimated to cost from $280 million to $380 million. AIDEA said it will finance the construction through the use of bonds repayable to mining companies that would use the road to access mining areas.
AIDEA has said constructing and maintaining the road would cost between $475 million and $616 million over 30 years, with an estimated $988 million in tolls during that time.
Officials with BLM have said they have been conducting broad public engagement.
“The BLM conducted extensive public outreach for this project and visited many remote communities that would be most affected by the road,” said BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett in a news release. “I realize the importance of this project to the state of Alaska and for the state’s ability to develop its resources and, as such, I am committed to ensuring a thorough and comprehensive analysis. This can’t be done without substantive input from stakeholders.”
Solaris Gillespie, clean water and mining manager for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, criticized the state’s apparent priorities with regard to the project.
“The state is cutting funds for education, seniors and much more,” Gillispie said. “It should not be providing an enormous subsidy to a well-funded industry with no assurance of paying the state back.”
The state has spent about $26 million from the general fund over the years during predevelopment planning.
The Northern Alaska Environmental Center also called out what they saw as a rushed process.
“(That’s) the minimum length required under the National Environmental Policy Act. This period is far too short to allow for adequate feedback from the public,” a recently published news release from the center stated.
The public comment period for the draft EIS is open until Oct. 15. Those interested in providing comment can email BLM_AK_AKSO_AmblerRoad_Comments@blm.gov or send written comment to Ambler Road DEIS Comments, BLM Fairbanks District Office, 222 University Ave., Fairbanks AK 99709.
The BLM has reported it will be holding public hearings in Alatna, Allakaket, Ambler, Anaktuvuk Pass, Anchorage, Bettles, Coldfoot, Evansville, Fairbanks, Hughes, Huslia, Kiana, Kobuk, Kotzebue, Noatak, Noorvik, Selawik, Shungnak, Stevens Village, Tanana, Wiseman and Washington, D.C.
The Fairbanks meeting will be held from 6-8:30 p.m. Sept. 23 in the Borealis Room at the Wedgwood Resort, 212 Wedgewood Drive.
Other meetings dates and times can be found at bit.ly/2Lalhpq.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.