Community Perspective

Ambler Road: Listen when the region says ‘no’

Last month, as the Ambler Road proposal neared the end of the testimony phase of the draft environmental impact statement, the state’s Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority board received some shocking news from CEO Tom Boutin: AIDEA had spent nearly all of the $26.2 million the state had appropriated for the project, and there was only $32,926 left.

“We’re not supportive of blindly going down the road and not knowing what road we’re on,” AIDEA board chairman Dana Pruhs said in a story James Brooks reported to the Anchorage Daily News.

Then, despite such concerns, Pruhs and the rest of the board voted unanimously to spend $718,000 more from AIDEA’s accounts.

Every time AIDEA says it will not spend general fund money, remember that the project has spent $26.2 million appropriated by the Alaska Legislature. That same Legislature is now cutting education, policing and transportation funds, the very backbone of state government. Gov. Mike Dunleavy says that Alaska is “open for business” even as he backs out of campaign promises to not cut funding.

I was born and raised in Fairbanks as well as the Brooks Range. I have spent my life guiding, flying, hiking, boating, snowmachining and dog mushing all over the eastern end of the proposed road site.

The region is a seasonal home to backcountry hunters and anglers, float-trippers and commercial tourism businesses like my family’s. My family has operated successfully and sustainably for over 45 years. We show people the mountains instead of removing them.

For these reasons, I have followed the Ambler Road proposal from its inception. AIDEA is planning to throw good money after bad and, in the process, destroy one of the world’s few unspoiled landscapes.

The Ambler Road proposal fails nearly all of the mandates AIDEA is supposed to uphold. AIDEA’s stated purpose is to promote, develop and advance the general prosperity and economic welfare of the people of Alaska. The people are the part they have forgotten while they subsidize foreign mining interests. I have attended Bureau of Land Management meetings in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Anaktuvuk Pass, Evansville, Bettles and Alatna where the participants overwhelmingly said “no” to this proposal. There are 11 resolutions against this proposal from Evansville to Huslia, Kobuk and beyond.

The southern Brooks Range is home to villagers who still harvest the majority of their food from the land. Their health and welfare must be a priority. They have already seen an originally “private” road built to the North Slope become the now-public Dalton Highway.

Additionally, the socioeconomic outlook for this proposal is bleak with the risk of more drugs, alcohol and violence, as well as risking the health of the caribou herds and fish in the region that are critical for subsistence. When BLM staff met with village residents to talk about process, the meetings always devolved into questions about the project itself. So many questions AIDEA refuses to answer. So many contradictory promises.

A private, gated driveway, built in part with Alaska money for foreign mining companies is in direct conflict with AIDEA’s stated purpose.

AIDEA has spent $26.2 million in state money while promising to build a road that is closed to Alaskans, and for industrial use only. AIDEA’s permit also promises to bond and remove the road, but the agency provided no accounting in the draft Environmental Impact Statement for what that will cost. Staff keep saying the road will cost $350 million, but all the BLM meetings posted numbers from $550 million to $920 million, before maintenance and removal.

The road proposal is not fiscally or environmentally responsible, nor does it reflect the region’s needs and desires. It is AIDEA stumbling ahead, blindly going down a road the state cannot afford to build, and ignoring the welfare of the Alaskan people who repeatedly say no.

No means no. In a state that has a history of wild spending and sexual abuse, AIDEA should listen and take no for an answer. No road to Ambler.

John Gaedeke lives in Fairbanks.

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