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Source : nps.gov
March 1, 2022
Author : Alex Bustillos
The 211-mile Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Road was supposed to connect the James W. Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mineral Belt in the northwest of Alaska as no existing roads service the communities near the mineral belt.
Back in 2020, the project was approved by the Bureau of Land Management and the US Army Corp of Engineers, and officials agreed to grant a 50-year right-of-way to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the public corporation behind the project.
However, Engineering News-Record reports that on February 22 of this year, a Biden administration filing in a federal district court said that the Interior Department found issues in the analysis that were used to approve the project. Specifically, the filing cited laws related to the National Environmental Protection Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
The filing came in response to legal challenges filed by environmentalists and Alaska Native groups.
Alaska Natives sued back in October of 2020, writing that “In a rush to get this decision done, the consultation processes of the government entities involved in the decision were not meaningful.”
“This road could change life in our region more than any other single decision in history, and yet the people most affected by it have largely been left out,” said Harding Sam, Chief of Alatna village. “We are therefore compelled to ask the courts to protect our hunting and fishing resources and activities, ancestral lands and waters of cultural and economic significance along the hundreds of thousands of acres of the proposed Ambler Road because the federal agencies failed to do so. ”
In the recent filing, the government assured the parties that it would suspend the right-of-way for the road and “ensure that no ground-disturbing activity takes place that could potentially impact the resources in question.”
According to the Ambler Access website, the area is rich in copper, zinc and “critical minerals and other elements making this a secure, reliable US supply-chain resource essential for our nation’s tech-focused economy, green energy products, and military effectiveness.”
Moreover, development of the mines and the access road could provide economic benefits to the area. According to Ambler Access, projects are “expected to provide employment opportunities for more than 3,000 total jobs during construction and an estimated 1,800 total jobs supporting Alaskan families during operation of the road and associated mines.”
The conflict of environmentalism versus industry is a story as old as our modern age, so it will be interesting to see how this battle plays out.