The state of Alaska is funding a project through Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), and is in the planning stages of a potential billion-dollar road that is 220 miles in length. It would start from the trans-Alaska pipeline's Pump Station 5 on the haul road and end at Bornite Mine near the village of Kobuk. It would include 15 bridges through some of the last pristine areas in the United States, all for non-renewable resources. The lifespan of the mine would be 12 years. The mining companies would get the real giveaway from the state, and would never be able to pay the state back for the costs associated with this project. We are selling out to Canadian mining companies and also destroying our renewable resources that we all depend on, whether for pictures, float trips, survival, or general recreational activities.
The Tribes of Allakaket, Alatna, Evansville, Ambler, Kobuk, along with the Brooks Range Council and a host of other groups are in protest of this proposed project. We all reached a much-thought-out conclusion that this road project would be, simply put, irresponsible development — a misallocation of funds by the state of Alaska. Fiscal allocations have been in the $25 million range so far and are expected to rise with more surveys and the daunting task of starting a 220-mile-long project that could cost taxpayers up to a billion. With education funding being cut across the board in the state of Alaska, we feel that the state should follow its constitution and concentrate on better health and education throughout Alaska. There are so many roads that need to be maintained for public safety already.
The tribes here in the Upper Koyukuk River are all opposed to the road. We know that this project will decimate the Western Arctic Caribou Herd. As of now the population is steadily dropping from a high of 490,000 a decade ago. In the past two years alone the population has dropped 27 percent to 235,000. The caribou are not the only animal at risk. We have moose populations in the Brooks Range that have dropped to 280 in number from 1,200 a few years ago. Twenty-five miles upriver from Allakaket we have 300,000 summer chum salmon spawning every year in the Henshaw River, which is 15 percent of the total Yukon River chum run, valuable renewable resources that must be preserved. The south forks of the Koyukuk and Jim Rivers are also important spawning grounds for chum and chinook salmon. This should be a red flag for the Governor's Chinook Salmon Initiative. We have the largest whitefish and sheefish spawning grounds up the Alatna River, some of which winter over in the Minto Flats and Lower Innoko River. The stable Dall sheep population may start dropping also.
The road to Ambler would be a boon to mining companies at the taxpayers' expense. Our renewable wildlife resources, which Natives and non-Natives alike depend on for our way of life, would be traded for temporary profits.
P.J. Simon is second chief of the Allakaket Tribe in Northwest Alaska.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.