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Business/Economy

Ambler Road study to continue, full project still on hold

FAIRBANKS — Gov. Bill Walker is allowing environmental work to move forward for the eventual construction of a 200-mile road to northwestern Alaska's Ambler Mining District.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority will spend $3.6 million that has already been appropriated to begin the scoping portion of the environmental work necessary to start building Ambler Road, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports.

Walker's approval comes as clarification for an administrative order he issued shortly after taking office. That order halted all discretionary spending on six mega-projects, including Ambler Road.

"As we wrestle with a $3.5 billion deficit, it's important that we examine all spending," Walker said in a news release. "With the Ambler Road Project, the $3.6 million had already been appropriated, so this clarification allows the project to progress to a natural stopping point instead of stalled mid-step."

While the project is still being stalled, the memo to AIDEA from Walker's budget director, Pat Pitney, explains that the money can now be used to begin part of the environmental work needed for the project to move forward.

AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik said the $8.1 million that has been appropriated for the project could allow it to progress in fiscal 2017. To complete an environmental impact study would require an additional $4.2 million to $6.8 million, according to the memo.

The road would run from the Dalton Highway west to the Ambler Mining District, where a Canadian mining company is exploring the development of a major mining project.

Opponents of the project have voiced concerns about the industrial road's impact on hunting and fishing, while supporters say the road will increase mine access and create jobs.

The scoping portion of the environmental study would allow the state to hold meetings with federal agencies, communities and stakeholder groups to gather feedback and consider possible alternatives to the road.

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