FAIRBANKS -- Opponents of a proposed road to Ambler have banded together to voice their opposition and launch a website dedicated to highlighting their concerns with the project.
The road is part of Gov. Sean Parnell's Roads to Resources program, which seeks to provide access to areas such as the Ambler mineral district and the Umiat petroleum fields.
The Brooks Range Council opposes the use of state funds to pay for industrial roads for private industry, according to a prepared statement issued by the group last week. The road to Ambler would be more than 220 miles long and cost the state nearly half a billion dollars. Mining the area would virtually guarantee the release of toxic metals and acid-producing sulfide, the council said.
"A major road through this country will change everything for the worse. From the hunting and fishing that puts food on the table, to the vibrant wilderness tourism industry, it's not only us that will lose -- it's everyone who comes from around the world to see this stunning landscape as it is. That is a resource we can count on forever," council chairman John Gaedeke said.
Gaedeke splits his time between Fairbanks and his family's Iniakuk Lake Wilderness Lodge in the Brooks Range, where he guides.
Parnell views the Ambler road and others as a key to economic development in the state.
"Better transportation corridors will open up petroleum and mining opportunities," Parnell said when announcing his 2013 fiscal year budget proposal in December. "Mineral exploration expenditures are up and with our efforts to streamline the permitting process, we are working to secure Alaska's resources for Alaskans' benefit."
Longtime Bettles resident DaleLynn Gardner said the Brooks Range Council hopes to clear up the misconception that everyone wants the road.
"The governor may think there is public support because the mining industry is a powerful lobby but in our experience most people who live up here don't want the road. Our City Council passed a resolution that says just that, so the state should certainly know how we feel now," Gardner said.
The environmental risks are significant, said chemist Kendra Zamzow of Chickaloon. Zamzow works with the Center for Science in Public Participation, a group based in Bozeman, Mont.
"When mined, volcanic-associated sulfide deposits like the one at Ambler will generate acid and leach toxic metals basically forever. These mines can't simply be closed down after they're mined out and it will cost a lot of money every year to treat and neutralize the water -- potentially for thousands of years -- just to keep water and fish safe," she said.
The organization's website can be found at brooksrange.org.
By DOROTHY CHOMICZ
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner