BLM Suspends Ambler Road Right-of-Way
The Biden administration is rescinding the right-of-way granted to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) for a road to the Ambler mining district.
Effects on Subsistence
The suspension notice says the US Department of Interior determined that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) did not properly evaluate the effects of the road on subsistence uses or adequately consult with tribes. BLM granted the fifty-year right-of-way through 25 miles of Gates of the Arctic National Park in 2021, based on a record of decision from the year before.
AIDEA says the suspension notice does not cite any specific deficiencies or any way to correct the problem. AIDEA also notes that the initial scoping period included fifteen meetings in thirteen communities across 330 days. The next phase, drafting the environmental impact statement, included hearings in eighteen rural communities, and BLM held fifteen government-to-government meetings with tribal groups.
At the time, environmentalists voiced opposition to the road. Erica Watson with the Northern Alaska Environmental Center wrote, “the impacts to the region’s water, food, and cultural sovereignty are unacceptable.”
AIDEA Board Chair Dana Pruhs says, “The federal government does not have jurisdiction on state and private lands in the State of Alaska” under Section 201(4) of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The law that established new national parks and preserves also guaranteed rights of access for economic purposes.
A map of the proposed road to the Ambler Mining District.
The Ambler Access Project is a proposed 211-mile road from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District in the Northwest Arctic Borough. The district is a large prospective copper-zinc mineral belt with extensive deposits of critical minerals and other elements.
“Suspending our right-of-way is a major setback for Alaska and the nation in accessing domestic and reliable supplies of the critical and strategic minerals so essential to our nation’s transition to clean and advanced technologies,” says AIDEA Executive Director and CEO Alan Weitzner. “The more our federal government prevents access to these minerals in Alaska, the more we remain reliant on supply chains from sanctioned nations.”
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.
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.