Ambler Access Work Continues Despite Disappointing Ruling
A map of the proposed road to the Ambler Mining District.
Partners developing a proposed road to the mining district near Ambler in Northwest Alaska are discussing the impact of a court ruling on previously announced 2022 summer field activities.
Voluntary Remand Without Vacatur
The Ambler Access Project (AAP) is a proposed 211-mile road from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District in the Northwest Arctic Borough. A 25-mile stretch would run through Gates of the Arctic National Park.
In 2021, the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) granted a fifty-year right-of-way over federal lands, but in March the Department of the Interior (DOI) suspended that decision.
US District Court Judge Sharon Gleason granted DOI’s motion for voluntary remand without vacatur. Gleason also is requiring that the DOI file a status report within sixty days and every sixty days thereafter.
DOI indicated that the remand was necessary because the department identified deficiencies in BLM’s analysis of impacts to subsistence uses under Section 810 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and its consultation with tribes pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106.27. DOI requested a remand to have time to supplement the administrative record.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) had planned more than $30 million worth of field work in 2022, half funded by the state-backed corporation and half by Ambler Metals, a joint venture owned by South32 Limited and Trilogy Metals. The field work would inform a budget for a final investment decision in 2024.
In light of the remand, the partners—as well as NANA Regional Corporation, the Northwest Arctic Borough, and the State of Alaska—are reassessing AIDEA’s proposed plan and budget.
Tony Giardini, president and CEO of Trilogy Metals, counts the court order as a partial victory, since the right-of-way decision was not vacated entirely. “We can focus on the upcoming exploration field season at the Upper Kobuk Mineral Projects and AIDEA’s field program for the AAP. We want to acknowledge the strong show of support that the AAP has received from the Native villages in the Upper Kobuk Region and the Northwest Arctic Borough that have passed resolutions in favor of the AAP… We are hopeful that the court’s decision to retain jurisdiction over this matter and its stipulation requiring regular status reports to be filed will result in the additional analysis being completed in a prompt time period.”
AIDEA Executive Director Alan Weitzner has called the deposits of copper and critical minerals in the Ambler district “essential to growing our nation’s tech-focused economy and military preparedness” and says the access road “has the potential to lead to up to five concurrent mine operations over time, which will have broad impacts to Alaska’s existing transportation infrastructure.”
This year the Alaska Railroad is celebrating 100 years of transportation people and cargo around Alaska. While the railroad is one of the states oldest transporters, it certainly isn’t the only one, and in this issue of Alaska Business we also check in on the Marine Highway, Span Alaska, and the White Pass & Yukon Route. For those interested in Southeast, our focus on that region provides updates on Kensington Mine, Tongass FCU, the troll fishery, and Juneau’s growing landfill.