Ambler road study work resumes

Gov. Bill Walker’s administration has lifted a spending freeze on the controversial Ambler Mining District road, which will allow the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to spend the $3.6 million it has for early work on the project.

“As we wrestle with a $3.5 billion deficit, it’s important that we examine all spending,” Walker said in an Oct. 21 statement. “With the Ambler road project, the $3.6 million had already been appropriated, so this clarification allows the project to progress to a natural stopping point instead of (being) stalled mid-step.”

AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik said the money would allow the state development authority to complete the environmental impact statement scoping process, which could take up to a 18 months.

The scoping process is used to determine the appropriate contents of the specific environmental impact statement, or EIS. It involves gathering significant input from the stakeholders of prospective development.

On Dec. 26, 2014, Gov. Walker halted state spending on six large state projects mostly in preconstruction phases of development to evaluate their merits as the state budget situation worsened. The Ambler road is the last project to be resolved.

If constructed, the road to the Ambler Mining District would be a roughly 220-mile industrial use gravel road from the Dalton Highway west to the mining district located along the southern edge of the Brooks Range in Northwest Alaska.

Financing construction of the road would likely be the responsibility of mine developers in the area, who have said the it must be built to make mining the multi-metal deposits financially viable.

NovaCopper, a Vancouver-based company, has spent more than 10 years evaluating its claims in the Ambler Mining District and is currently conducting a feasibility study for a primarily copper mine.

NovaCopper CEO Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse said in a formal statement he is happy with the administration’s decision to move into the EIS and that NovaCopper will work with the state to advance the permitting process.

Chair of the Brooks Range Council, John Gaedeke, urged the AIDEA board to stop the project because it would benefit a Canadian mining company while area villages oppose it.

How the mine would impact water quality in the Upper Kobuk drainage and how the road would affect the migration of caribou relied upon for subsistence have been among the concerns raised by locals.

“To spend millions more on scoping now suggests that we wasted the last two years (of public meetings) or you’re not listening to the villages and their residents,” Gaedeke said during the public comment period of the Oct. 22 AIDEA board meeting.

The Brooks Range Council was formed in 2012 by residents along the road corridor to oppose the project.

To date, $26.25 million has been appropriated by the state to the project since the 2011 fiscal year. AIDEA is leading the state’s work on the proposed road, and the $3.6 million is from past appropriations, the remnants of which total about $8.1 million, according to an Oct. 15 memo to AIDEA from the Office of Management and Budget.

AIDEA would still additional funding up to $6.8 million to complete the EIS beyond the scoping process.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
11/24/2016 - 3:16pm