A final decision from the Bureau of Land Management on the controversial road to the Ambler Mining District has once against sparked opposing responses from pro-development elected officials and those who are concerned about environmental risks associated with the road.
The BLM issued its 320-page record of decision Thursday, outlining a plan to construct a 211-mile road that would connect the Ambler Mining District in Northwest Alaska with the Dalton Highway and Fairbanks.
A portion of the road would travel through the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, a route that Congress sanctioned in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 but has conservationists and advocates of subsistence lifestyles worried.
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 road is expected to cost $500 million, a price tag that is sparked criticism from some who say the risks and initial costs may outweigh the projected revenues.
“The state’s willingness to spend public funds on a private project that so clearly does not serve the public interest should be alarming to all Alaskans,” said Solaris Gillispie, clean water and mining manager at the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. “As the communities in the region have stated again and again, the impacts to the region’s water, food, and cultural sovereignty are unacceptable. Alaska’s wealth is in our lands, waters, and people, and we will not allow the state to trade that wealth for multinational companies’ profit.”
It remains unclear how AIDEA plans to construct the road, as the organization still lacks the authority to build portions of the road through land owned by Interior Alaska Native corporation Doyon, Limited. Doyon outlined its grievances with AIDEA’s handling of the planning process in a letter issued in early April.
About a quarter of the proposed road would cross federal lands, access to which the Bureau of Land Management approved in its Thursday decision. Other portions of the road, however, cross Alaska Native, state or privately owned land — access which Doyon noted that AIDEA has not secured,
Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation has long championed the road as another way to develop Alaska’s resources.
Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski called the road “both timely and significant for Alaska’s future.” Sen. Dan Sullivan pointed to possible job creation, and Rep. Don Young cited the importance of the minerals the road will allow access to.
Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy also celebrated the announcement in a statement Thursday.
“Grateful for @BLMAlaska’s work on AK’s Ambler Road project,” the governor posted to his official Twitter page. “Expected to create thousands of jobs and new revenue for our state, AK-sourced minerals will greatly benefit our nation’s renewable energy transition.”
A copy of the final decision can be found here: bit.ly/3jtPejD.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.