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Proposed road to Ambler mining district faces fresh opposition along route

Zachariah Hughes | KNOM
As AIDEA prepares for its environmental impact statement for the proposed road to Ambler, some landowners along the route are opposing involvement. AIDEA

As the state continues its outreach to Interior communities near the proposed route of an industrial road to a controversial mining district in Ambler, some have voiced opposition and now one has declared its land off limits.

A declaration in July by Evansville Inc., a Native village corporation that owns land along the proposed route, declared that the board of directors is “opposing construction of any portion of the proposed Ambler mining road” on its land.

“We of course respect their right to express their opinion and state their case in their resolution,” said Karsten Rodvik, head of external affairs for the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. “We are reaching out to Evansville Inc. to follow up on the concerns they noted, and we of course are investigating potential routes north and south of the area they noted.”

Gary Hanchett, mayor of Bettles, a town close to Evansville, was at an Aug. 18 meeting with AIDEA. He alleged that by “reaching out” to its critics, AIDEA is ignoring what they’ve already said.

“They said they were working with Evansville on this, and of course that only aggravated people,” Hanchett said. “And they gave us the attitude, that ‘Well, this is not really gonna stand, they’ll change their minds, and it’s only temporary.’ ”

“That was astounding,” Hanchett said. “That cavalier way is not received well by anybody.”

Hanchett said that, for those opposing the road, the promise of jobs and mineral development is short-term and not worth the long-term costs.

“We just don’t see it that way. Just the opposite. Progress for us is to stop exploiting the land,” Hanchett said.

Hanchett admitted there are residents in of Bettles, Evansville and other Interior communities who support the road project so far. But he said that does not negate the formal opposition coming from tribal and corporate entities in the region. AIDEA’s presentations, Hanchett charged, were almost identical to the slide shows and speeches he and others saw in Kotzebue in June. Hanchett said the meetings are beginning to feel repetitive.

“Quite frankly, there’s a number of people who feel they’re wasting their time, and they’re really aggravated. They see it as arrogance on AIDEA’s part to keep pushing this thing, when they know they’re not wanted.”

Rodvik said meetings in communities along the route are part of the state’s effort to get input on the 200-mile road before starting work on the Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS. Meetings were held last week in Bettles/Evansville, Allakaket, and Alatna, Hughes and Huslia. 

AIDEA has had to push back filing for permits to begin EIS work for several months, but Rodvik said it won’t be long now.

“With the inclusion of the meetings we’re holding in the Koyukuk River communities this week, I believe we’ve held roughly 35 community meetings,” Rodvik said. “Right now we are securing the services of a third-party contractor, and we expect to have the permit application prepared and filed with the appropriate federal agency by this fall.”

This article was originally published at KNOM.org.