Opinions

Don’t we have better ways to spend money than on the Ambler road?

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The state, through the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), proposes to finance the construction of an industrial road for a Canadian mining company whose mineral deposits have yet to be determined economic. State financing would include maintenance, airstrips, camps and gravel sites. The state expects that costs for building, maintaining and ultimately removing the road will be repaid by tolls paid by the mining company.

The project is described in Bureau of Land Management draft environmental impact statement and National Park Service environmental and economic analysis websites.

The 200-plus mile Ambler Road would be built across the currently undeveloped southern flank of the Brooks Range to mineral deposits in an area surrounded on three sides by the largest contiguous, intact and wild park lands in the entire national park system.

This road would have as many as 40 trucks a day hauling mining materials, not including supplies and support. Expect high levels of noise pollution and dust, which may contain asbestos (extremely detrimental to human and animal health). Expect significant disturbance to wildlife, subsistence and huge degradation on wilderness recreation. The road would directly impact the movement and the health of the Western Arctic caribou herd. The costs to the ecosystems, subsistence, landscape, and Alaska as a whole far outweigh the benefits.

The right of way applied for would cross Gates of the Arctic National Preserve. Surface access across the preserve is provided for in Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act under certain limiting conditions. AIDEA’s proposal would either cross the preserve on a northern route and have significant adverse effects on the preserve and adjoining national park, or on a southern route placing a camp, gravel pit and airstrip within the preserve though these developments could be located outside the preserve. If located within the preserve, they will cause significant and unnecessary adverse impacts on the preserve. If a right of way is to be granted, it should be on the southern route, and should have no support developments or allowances for gravel sale in the Preserve.

If a right of way is to be granted, there needs to be full, concrete assurance that costs will be repaid by the benefiting mining company. If this project is truly viable, shouldn’t the private sector finance it? No one has demonstrated state involvement enhances the viability of the project.

If a right of way is to be granted, there needs to be financial assurance it will be fully completed in an environmentally and socially appropriate way. No one wants to see a partially completed road, with the inability to restore the area to natural conditions.

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How might this affect you if you live elsewhere in Alaska? The state will continue to maintain the Dalton, Elliott and Parks highways with shrinking budgets, all of which will see additional traffic from mining. Increased railroad and port use will impact communities. If Cook Inlet gas is needed for the project, Enstar users may pay more if there are shortages. The state has spent about $28 million so far on the proposed road. Alaskans know the state is already failing to maintain crumbling infrastructure. Don’t we have higher priority budget needs than a project with no guaranteed local or statewide benefits, and with huge potential financial costs to the state?

I urge you to ask our legislators to provide careful oversight on this project.

Please comment on the documents before the Oct. 29 deadline.

Judy Caminer is a former BLM and National Park Service senior manager.

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