The Arctic Sounder

NANA to pull land use permit for Ambler Road

Northwest Alaska’s regional Native corporation said Wednesday that it is withdrawing its support for the Ambler Road, adding another hurdle for the controversial project. The decision comes less than a month after the Biden administration moved to block the proposed 211-mile road, which would stretch from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District and provide infrastructure for potential copper and zinc development.

NANA Corp. leadership said in a written statement that the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority in charge of the Ambler Road project has not consulted Upper Kobuk residents and organizations enough; has not ensured controlled, permitted access along the route; and has not sufficiently shown it can protect subsistence resources in the area the road would cut through.

As a result, NANA said its board of directors decided May 2 that it won’t renew the three-year land-use surface permit, which it issued to AIDEA and is set to expire this year.

“This decision reflects unmet criteria, insufficient consultation, and a lack of confidence in the project’s alignment with our values and community interests,” NANA leadership said in the statement. “NANA established specific criteria required to consider supporting the Ambler Access Project, including controlled access, protection of caribou migration routes and subsistence resources, job creation and community benefits. These criteria remain insufficiently addressed by AIDEA.”

While the majority of the land that the road would cut through is not owned by NANA, the corporation owns a portion near the end of the proposed route, close to one of the main copper deposits and some of the active mining claims, according to the project’s website.

AIDEA said in a statement Wednesday that the Ambler Access Project remains viable despite NANA’s withdrawal. The route for the road will have to be moved north of NANA land, but it can still access 600,000 acres of state mining claims, AIDEA officials said in the statement.

“We respect the NANA Board’s decision and will adjust our plans accordingly,” said Randy Ruaro, AIDEA’s executive director. “This project represents a significant opportunity for economic development and job creation across the region. We remain committed to consulting with local communities and tribes to ensure their concerns are addressed. We hope the NANA Board will reconsider in the future.”


In response to NANA’s concerns, AIDEA said it informed the corporation about mitigating impacts to subsistence and invited them to collaborate on a workforce development plan for the project. Going forward, the state-owned agency said it will continue to seek input from local communities such as Shungnak, Ambler and Kobuk.

Spokespeople for NANA said Wednesday that the corporation was unable to answer further questions about its decision.

NANA previously expressed support for the economic potential of the Ambler Road project. In Wednesday’s statement, the corporation said that development decisions need to be made by or in consultation with residents and local corporations that have a right to “pursue resource and infrastructure development in alignment with (their) values.”

The road, which would be open only to mining-related industrial use, could bring thousands of jobs in construction, operation and maintenance, according to Ambler Metals, the mining company involved in mineral exploration in the area the road would access.

The road would run through caribou habitat and cross a multitude of rivers and streams. Tribal and environmental organizations opposed to the project have said that waste from construction and traffic could contaminate streams and harm fish. Noise and traffic could also divert animal migration and harm local subsistence resources, the groups have said.

Last month, the Bureau of Land Management issued a final environmental review concluding that a road would disturb wildlife, damage permafrost and harm hunting traditions in tribal communities. The federal agency recommended denying a right-of-way access permit for the project — a move applauded by many tribal leaders and conservation organizations and condemned by industry groups and Alaska political leaders.

[Biden administration moves to block Ambler Road and announces sweeping restrictions on NPR-A drilling]

In the same statement saying it was withdrawing its support for the Ambler Road project, NANA also expressed concern with the BLM’s final environmental impact statement, saying it “goes beyond the law in several aspects” and threatens Alaska Native corporations’ responsibility to advance the interests of shareholders under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Emma Roach, spokeswoman for BLM in Alaska, said the agency would not comment on NANA’s statement.

NANA is not the first Native organization to withdraw its support for the Ambler Access Project.

Last fall, Doyon canceled land access for AIDEA, which the agency needed to conduct studies to support the project’s development. The Tanana Chiefs Conference has also opposed the Ambler Road project and has sued the federal government to stop it.

Despite the decision to not renew the permit with the Ambler Road project, NANA said it plans to work with Ambler Metals to reassess the future of Upper Kobuk Mineral Projects, maintaining interest in future mineral development in the region.

Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.