The Bureau of Land Management on Thursday issued a right-of-way permit supporting a roughly 200-mile industrial road through the Northwest Alaska wilderness to a region that the state says could support several mines.
In its 320-page record of decision, written jointly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency said the road will serve the public interest, including boosting revenues to the state of Alaska and employing thousands of workers during construction of the road and mines.
Critics have blasted the road as costly and a threat to subsistence resources and the region’s rivers.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the state agency that applied for the permit, lauded the decision in a statement.
“This long-sought development of the road and mining district represents tremendous potential for economic growth, diversification, and job opportunities for Alaskans, along with revenue expected to the state and local governments for decades,” said Dana Pruhs, chair of AIDEA’s board.
Doyon, the Alaska Native corporation for the state’s Interior region, has not granted right-of-way access for the project to cross its lands.
“Doyon is aware of the ROD being issued today, but there is much work to be done before there is agreement for access across Doyon lands,” Aaron Schutt, Doyon president, said in a statement on Thursday.
[Doyon calls Alaska agency’s approval of $35 million for mining road amid pandemic ‘foolish’ and ‘troubling’]
The proposed gravel road would link Alaska’s skeletal road system north of Fairbanks to the mineral-rich Ambler Mining District, ending near Ambler and other villages. A portion of it would cross the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.
The road is expected to cost at least $500 million. The state agency has said AIDEA funds and bonds could be combined with private investments to pay for the road. The agency has said it will get a commitment from mining companies that they will repay costs.
“The private sector must put matching funds into the project,” the statement from AIDEA said.
In a statement, the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, a conservation group, questioned whether the state will see a return for the investment on the road.
“The state’s willingness to spend public funds on a private project that so clearly does not serve the public interest should be alarming to all Alaskans,” said Solaris Gillispie with the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. “As the communities in the region have stated again and again, the impacts to the region’s water, food, and cultural sovereignty are unacceptable.”
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