AIDEA to split $70M of Ambler access work with explorer

The leaders of Alaska’s development bank have a deal to finance remaining preconstruction work for the Ambler mining district access road with the company leading exploration in the region.

The 50-50 cost-share agreement approved Feb. 10 by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority board of directors and signed with Ambler Metals, a joint venture of Trilogy Metals, authorizes up to $70 million of spending on the Ambler road until state officials decide whether or not to build the remote 211-mile industrial road.

It runs through 2024 if AIDEA officials don’t reach a final investment decision before then.

The AIDEA board transferred the $35 million that it plans to use for the 50-50 cost-share agreement from the authority’s Revolving Fund in June to the formerly unfunded Arctic Infrastructure Fund established by the Legislature.

The Bureau of Land Management approved the environmental impact statement for the road in July. The federal agency led the review because the road would require a special right-of-way across federal lands in the area, including through Gates of the Arctic National Park. BLM granted AIDEA the right-of-way in early January.

Vancouver-based Trilogy Metals has been exploring two large multi-metal prospects — Arctic and Bornite — on the southern flank of the Brooks Range near the terminus of the proposed road. Leaders of the junior explorer have long said the road is needed to make the prospects economically viable despite their generally high grades of mineralization.

“I would again like to commend the leadership of AIDEA and Ambler Metals for the incredibly hard work that they have invested in moving the Ambler Access Project forward. I am also extremely pleased at the commitment by the State of Alaska and AIDEA in their determined effort in making this road a reality. The completion of this agreement marks another step to the eventual construction of this road which will have a significant benefit to the people of Alaska,” Trilogy CEO Tony Giardini said in a statement from the company.

The agreement also includes a clause that allows Ambler Metals to credit its future predevelopment contributions against the tolls and other fees the company would pay to use the road once it is developed.

An AIDEA spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the specifics of the deal in time for this story.

Officials in AIDEA and Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration have emphasized the road’s potential to access numerous other less-delineated mineral prospects in the region as well despite significant opposition from Tribal and village governments in the area, particularly those near where the road would connect with the Dalton Highway north of Fairbanks.

“Projects like the Ambler Access Project help to create the tangible economic opportunities Alaskans need and deserve, especially for neighboring communities. No one does resource development better than Alaska,” AIDEA chairman Dana Pruhs said.

Local opposition to the road stems from fears it will disrupt caribou migrations and attract additional sport hunters in a large area of the Interior used predominantly for subsistence purposes. AIDEA leaders insist use of the road will be actively monitored and restricted to mining traffic only with exceptions for local uses.

However, the legal path to keeping the road private remains unclear given $26 million in state general funds has been spent on the road that is expected to cost upwards of $520 million, according to the authority.

AIDEA’s early price estimates for initial construction of the road were in the $300 million range.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

02/17/2021 - 7:59am