OPINION: Ambler Road’s risks aren’t worth the money

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We all depend on water. Life requires water: to hydrate our bodies, our crops, and our livestock, which in turn provide us with the nutrition we require to be present on this Earth. Only 3% of the world’s water is freshwater, two-thirds of which is frozen in glaciers or is unavailable for our use. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages. Now imagine if your freshwater became polluted from an abandoned mine leaking 3 million gallons of heavy metals, arsenic and other chemicals into your water. This happened to the Animas River in Colorado, which flowed downstream into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, carrying polluted water that affected people’s wells and way of life. This is one example of many mining disasters that we cannot allow to occur to the waterways we hold sacred in Alaska.

The Inupiaq people have lived near the Kobuk River for thousands of years and depend on the Kobuk River for drinking water and fishing. When I was a little girl, we would go camping and fishing. When we got home, my aana, or grandma, would go fish seining and we would work on the fish all day long. When my dad was alive, he would take us four girls fishing during the day down the hill and by evening we would have dinner. It was so fun and memorable. We moved to Fairbanks when I was 12 years old, two years after my dad died. Many times, I would dream about fishing on the Kobuk River, and I would get jealous of people on Facebook when I saw them fishing. No matter how far I am from home, the Kobuk River will always have my heart.

If the Ambler Road is built, Trilogy Metals plans to develop this sacred watershed, which they call “the Ambler mining district,” into “a premier North American copper producer.” The road would disrupt the migration of the caribou that we depend on for nutrition, create air and noise pollution from traffic, destroy wetlands, create safety hazards for hunters and wildlife, and pollute waterways that are critical for humans and wildlife. The mines will have even a greater risk. These mines, NANA and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority can’t be trusted. They can repeatedly say how safe they are, but research shows that mining is the nation’s largest source of toxic pollution. Research on five major mines in Alaska found that there were 8,150 total spill incidents releasing 2,360,000 gallons, and 1,930,000 pounds of hazardous material since 1995. The predictions of spills were severely underestimated. This is very serious for the tribes who live in this area. In 2009, sulfolane, an industrial chemical used in the oil refinery process, was detected in North Pole’s groundwater after it leaked from the Flint Hills Resources refinery, polluting people’s wells and disrupting their access to clean, safe water. I live in North Pole now and have a water tank, allowing me to get clean water delivered if something like this were to happen again. When my tatta’s, or grandpa’s, water gets contaminated from the mines, he and other rural village residents will not simply be able to get water delivered to them.

Alaskans are on the hook to pay for the cleanup of spills and abandoned mines. There are half a million abandoned mines across the U.S. threatening drinking water, soil, and wildlife, which the EPA estimates will cost $35 billion to clean up. When I go home, I don’t want to worry about what I’m drinking or if the fish is good to eat. The Kobuk River sustains life, and if that river becomes contaminated it will be a heart-breaking disaster; the risk isn’t worth the money. My name is Angel Stickman. I am from Shungnak, and I say no to the Ambler Road.

Angel Stickman is an Alaskan, originally from the village of Shungnak on the Kobuk River in Northwest Alaska.

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