MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Native Alaskans sue Trump administration over mining road

Published by MAC on 2020-10-14
Source: Alaskapublic.org, Earthworks, Adn.com

At the heart of one of the most spectacular and sensitive regions of Interior Alaska

Alaska Native peoples have subsisted in the Northwest and Yukon-Koyukuk regions of Alaska for millennia. They have depended on the integrity of their natural environment to sustain their traditional culture, as well as their spiritual, social, and physical well-being. Respect for the land and wild resources is deeply ingrained, as each generation teaches the next to learn from the past and plan for the future. With these values at the core of their communities, and with wise and judicious guidance from elders and other leaders, Plaintiffs have successfully utilized and conserved their natural environment.

The Ambler Road Project is intended to provide access to large-scale industrial mining activities and it would enable the development of hundreds of smaller hard-rock mines in a previously undeveloped area. Mining operations are anticipated to sprawl out in every direction, passing directly through and between several National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and other conservation system units, thus piercing the heart of one of the most spectacular and sensitive regions of Interior Alaska.

The road and the Ambler Mining District threaten the inherent human right of Plaintiffs and their members to continue traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering practices that serve as the foundation of their culture.

Please sign the petition! Defend Alaska's Brooks Range and Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve: https://www.thepetitionsite.com/245/700/493/stop-the-ambler-industrial-access-road-proposal-across-alaskas-brooks-range

See Interior Villages Join TCC in Ambler Road Lawsuit Statement, October 7, 2020

See also:

2017-04-09 Coal mining company backs down in Alaska

2009-03-16 Mine waste trips up Alaska gold rush

2008-02-28 Native Alaskans sue Peabody and others over global warming impacts

State investment authority joins mining company to put $35M towards controversial Ambler Road

Wesley Early

https://www.alaskapublic.org/2021/02/12/state-investment-authority-joins-mining-company-to-put-35m-towards-controversial-ambler-road/

February 12, 2021

The state of Alaska’s investment authority board has agreed to put $35 million towards the controversial Ambler Road project. The funding is matched by Ambler Metals, the mining company looking to use the road to access mineral deposits in the region.

The proposed project would run roughly 211 miles from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District in the Northwest Arctic Borough. With the $35 million match from Ambler Metals, the $70 million infusion signals a major advancement in the development of the Ambler Road.

Ambler Metals CEO Ramzi Fawaz said the funding is for pre-development work. He said the permitting process will start sometime in the second half of 2021, and he anticipates the process will take two to three years.

“Permitting is one of those activities that gets done in addition to the feasibility study and surveys and so on,” Fawaz said. “And that’s part of that we need to do, and the team needs to do, before we get to an investment decision on the road.”

The development agreement between the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and Ambler Metals goes through December 2024. AIDEA approved it unanimously.

Subsistence advocates have filed lawsuits over the road, concerned that construction would impact the migration of caribou and subsistence hunting traditions, staples of life and the local Iñupiaq diet of the Northwest Arctic. In its environmental assessment released last March, BLM officials noted potential impacts to wildlife migration and erosion, as well as local water and air quality.

The process of getting a mine in the Ambler Mining District has garnered support from the Dunleavy administration and mining advocates, who say the project means high-paying jobs for Alaskans. Fawaz said they anticipate hiring more than 80 people for the field season work. Additionally, should construction be approved, another roughly 600 people would be hired for the construction of the road, and then about 400 for operations at the mine. Fawaz said Ambler Metals has been working with regional Native corporation NANA and the Northwest Arctic Borough to get locals employed.

“Our hope and our aim is to train and recruit as many as we can from the borough, from the region, from our neighbors, to participate in this work — both before we get to an investment decision and after,” Fawaz said.

With large deposits of gold, silver, lead and other minerals, Fawaz said the current projection is for a mine that would last 12 years. He said Ambler Metals hopes to find additional mineral deposits in the region to extend its lifetime to more than 20 years.

Lois Epstein is an engineer and Arctic program director for the Wilderness Society, a conservation group that’s one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the road. She said AIDEA’s board of directors was not transparent in their process for approving the funding. During their meeting Wednesday, the board was in executive session for several hours to discuss the project ahead of the vote — those sessions aren’t open to the public. Epstein said the board spent very little time discussing the move publicly before returning to an executive session.

“So if you’re interested at all what kind of questions were asked, what kind of details they focused on, did they even pay attention to the public comment period … you have no idea,” Epstein said.

Epstein said environmentalists and some Alaska Native organizations have also critiqued the timing of AIDEA’s focus on the Ambler Road project, considering the COVID-19 pandemic which has financially impacted thousands of Alaskans.

“We think the biggest issue right now for the state is the pandemic and all the economic impacts that have happened,” Epstein said. “To the extent that AIDEA could help mitigate those impacts, that’s what they should be focusing on. Not a long term project like the Ambler Road.”

Fawaz of Ambler Metals wouldn’t comment on the pending lawsuits beyond saying the company is pleased with the federal permitting work thus far, and believe they can operate responsibly in the region.


 
Villages sue Trump administration over proposed mining road that would cut through remote Interior Alaska

Alex DeMarban

https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/2020/10/07/villages-sue-trump-administration-over-proposed-mining-road-that-would-cut-through-remote-interior-alaska/

2020/10/07

A tribal consortium and five tribal governments in Alaska are suing the federal government to stop the 200-mile so-called Ambler Road that would carve through wilderness in Northwest Alaska to support mining in a mineral-rich district.

The Tanana Chiefs Conference, representing 42 tribes in Interior Alaska, said in a statement on Wednesday that a federal review of the project’s impacts to the region was “rushed, flawed, premature, and inadequate."

The 134-page filing was made Wednesday in federal District Court in Alaska. TCC and tribal governments for Alatna, Allakaket, Evansville, Huslia and Tanana filed the lawsuit.

They named Chad Padgett, Alaska director of the Bureau of Land Management, and David Hobbie, Alaska region chief for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as other federal officials and agencies in their filing.

The BLM, in a joint decision with the Army Corps, issued a federal permit for the road in July. The tribal organizations want that decision invalidated.

“The decision whether to construct the Ambler road has huge implications for the people in the region as it could lead to multiple mining projects in the area which could harm the health of the people and wildlife resources, and potentially open the entire country to easy access from the road system,” said Victor Joseph, chief of Tanana Chiefs Conference. "The concerns about these issues were not addressed by any of the government entities involved in the decision to approve the road.”

The proposed gravel road would link Alaska’s skeletal road system north of Fairbanks to the Ambler Mining District, ending near Ambler and other villages. A portion of it would cross the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.

The road is expected to cost at least $500 million. The state agency has said AIDEA funds and bonds could be combined with private investments to pay for the road. The agency has said it will get a commitment from mining companies that they will repay costs.

In a statement, the BLM said it stood by its environmental review, which it said “provides access to the world class and strategically important Ambler Mining District."

“During the course of this analysis, the BLM held over 35 public meetings in affected communities along the route throughout this three-year process. Our commonsense actions are lawful and based on the best available science. The Department will continue to implement President Trump’s agenda to create more American jobs, protect the safety of American workers, support domestic energy production and conserve our environment. We are confident the Courts will agree.”


 
Ambler Road Proposal: A Financial Boondoggle That Puts Alaska’s National Park Lands and Caribou at Risk

Bonnie Gestring

https://www.earthworks.org/blog/ambler-road-proposal-a-financial-boondoggle-that-puts-alaskas-national-park-lands-and-caribou-at-risk/

April 27, 2020

The Trump Administration is barreling forward with plans to approve a controversial 211-mile private mining road across federal public lands in northern Alaska. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is expected to issue a decision, approving a right-of-way for the road before the end of April.

The proposed road is no small endeavor. It would begin on public BLM lands near the Dalton Highway and extend through National Park Service lands in the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve.  It would cross 2,900 streams, 11 major rivers and some of the most remote wildlands left in the United States.

Even at the best of times, this project would be a boondoggle. The access road is proposed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) at an estimated cost of a half-billion to one billion dollars. AIDEA hopes that the mining companies will reimburse the state via a toll system for the road.  Yet, AIDEA has no actual contracts in place with any mining companies, and none of the mining companies have submitted mining plans – only plans for exploration.

Yes, that’s right.  AIDEA wants the public to pay for a 211-mile private road that only mining companies would use – without any guarantee that the companies can actually pay the money back. What’s worse? Despite strong public condemnation, AIDEA committed $35 million for the road at an emergency meeting called to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aside from the obvious financial issues, the road also spells trouble for fish and wildlife.  The road will transect important migratory routes for Alaska’s largest caribou herd: the Western Arctic Caribou Herd. Roads and other industrial development pose a serious threat to their long-term survival.

This road would also negatively impact the communities that rely on the Western Arctic Caribou herd. Learn more in this video from our allies at Brooks Range Council:

Does this road sound like a bad idea?  We think so. We are working to defend this spectacular place from this irresponsible project in coordination with our Alaska allies, so stay tuned.



Citing coronavirus disaster, Alaska’s investment authority wants to bypass regulations to fund Ambler Road Project
 
Wesley Early

https://www.alaskapublic.org/2020/03/27/citing-coronavirus-disaster-alaskas-investment-authority-wants-to-bypass-regulations-to-fund-ambler-road-project/

March 27, 2020

Citing Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s coronavirus emergency declaration, the state’s investment authority is looking to bypass regulations to put funding into the Ambler Road Project.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) Board of Directors is meeting Friday to vote to allow the group to waive the standard requirements for taking loans from its revolving fund. That would allow them to put $35 million into the fund that could later benefit the road, which they’re also scheduled to vote on.

Initially, the Board had a resolution to put the money from the revolving fund to the Arctic Infrastructure Development Fund, and then directly into the Ambler Road project. After a special Thursday board meeting, however, the resolution was amended to reflect that the board would have to take additional action to put the money into the Ambler Road.

The Ambler Road would stretch from Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District northeast of Kotzebue and cross Gates of the Arctic National Park. Critics say there are environmental concerns over routing through a national park. Others are concerned with impacts to federal subsistence rights.

AIDEA president Tom Boutin says the action by the board will allow AIDEA to issue loans more effectively to offset potential economic issues brought on by the coronavirus disaster. He says they want to ensure funding is secure for rural Alaska projects, like the Ambler Road.

The move has been criticized by environmental groups. The conservation nonprofit Alaska Wildlife Alliance called it inappropriate to fund the road project when there are other more pressing economic impacts facing Alaskans.
 
 
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