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Village of Kotzebue opposes Ambler road

  • Author: Shady Grove Oliver, The Arctic Sounder
  • Updated: April 15, 2018
  • Published April 15, 2018

A local Native group has taken a stand against a controversial road proposal in the Northwest Arctic.

The Native Village of Kotzebue recently passed a resolution in opposition to the construction of the Ambler Access project. The move makes it one of the most prominent bodies in the region to officially speak out against the road.

The resolution came precisely one year to the day after the Bureau of Land Management formally announced the start of its environmental review process for the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Project.

"… The Native Village of Kotzebue Council believes that the relatively short-term economic and other benefits of industrial development in the upper Kobuk region is outweighed by the widespread long-term negative impacts to the fish and wildlife that will result from this development," the council noted in Resolution 18-15.

If approved, the project would bring over 200 miles of road to the region. As it is currently proposed, it would begin at the Dalton Highway near Prospect Creek, cross north of Ambler and Bettles and terminate in the mining district in the southern foothills of the Brooks Range.

Of the total 211 miles proposed, about 26 would cross Gates of the Arctic National Park. It would also cover lands managed by the BLM, the state and Alaska Native corporations.

The mining district is rich in copper, zinc, lead and other materials and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which is leading the project, has argued the road will give mining companies the access they need to develop prospects in the area. Those prospects could lead to financial returns to the state and local communities, they've argued.

While the road would provide an industry connection between the mining district and the haul road, it would also cross prime subsistence use areas, which is of concern to groups who oppose its construction.

"… Construction of the Ambler Road and likely additional spur roads and development of these mine sites and the associated industrial activity and tailings ponds will change the character of the upper Kobuk environment, including the Kobuk River," the resolution reads. "… These changes will negatively affect the caribou, fish, birds and other wildlife directly through habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, industrial disturbance and contamination, during the life of the mines and for centuries thereafter… . The wildlife and fish that will be harmed from this development sustain the cultural, nutritional and spiritual way of life of the tribal members of Qikiqtaġruk."

Environmental groups like The Wilderness Society have also spoken out against the road, as have a handful of local communities, including Allakaket, Ambler, Bettles, Evansville, Huslia, Kobuk and Koyukuk, along with Louden, Rampart and Ruby.

The Northwest Arctic Borough is in favor of the road project, while NANA Regional Corp. has remained neutral, though it supports the creation of an environmental impact statement for the proposal.

This proposal is in the spotlight at the state level as members of the House have been hearing expert testimony on the subject over the past week.

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