OPINION: If the Ambler Road is built, it’s not just our commercial fishery on the line

Commercial fishing is what I’ve known for my whole life. The first time, I was seven or eight, and I remember getting seasick and puking. My dad, the late Frank “Obbie” Greene, was the captain. I’ve been commercial fishing in Kotzebue Sound since then, and have been a permit holder since I was 19. I still get seasick, though.

Our salmon fishery is a big part of why I’m against the Ambler Road. I worry about what the road and mines would mean for our fishery. We all share the Kobuk River. The salmon, sheefish, trout, grayling and everybody between Kobuk and Kotzebue shares the water. We would all be hurting if something happened at those mines. From what I understand, it’s not a matter of if tailings ponds will break and send toxic sludge downriver, but when.

In the past 10 or so years, the Kotzebue Sound commercial fishery has brought millions of dollars to fishermen. It’s a boost to the economy for Kotzebue and the whole region. The best year we had was seven or eight years ago. We had 75 or so fishermen on the water and everybody had one or two helpers each. That’s a lot of families depending on salmon.

The Ambler Road to the mine and adjoining sites, and there were many sites in the presentation that I saw, have the possibilities for catastrophic failures. I’m sure this mine would have a tailings pond. No engineer can predict what the weather here in the Arctic will do. Rain and snow here are unpredictable. Tailings ponds fail. The Mount Polley mine is a perfect example for failure. British Columbia fishermen were expecting a run of 72 million sockeye in 2014. Mount Polley tailings pond broke and released 10 million cubic meters of water containing arsenic and mercury and 4.5 million cubic meters of tiny silt silica. Needless to say, the fishermen were devastated by the possible contamination.

Imagine this happening on the Kobuk River. How many villages below the mine depend on this water for drinking? How many people depend on this river for food? What animals do people subsist on that frequent the river? The same water passes into Kobuk Lake and in front of my home in Kotzebue. Not only could this affect people in the river system it could affect the ocean also. Our food, from fish to seals and beluga, would be directly impacted here on the coast. Fresh and salt water is life for our people.

Another issue is global warming. Typhoon Merbok in 2022 was just one of many storms to come. Our region was lucky for high water and offshore winds. Building the road to develop another mine and the subsequent mining would just add to the problems our region already faces. Efforts to shore up our communities from erosion would be more beneficial to the residents of our region.

According to what I’ve read, there are 250 active copper mines producing copper. What’s the rush in developing another? The copper isn’t going anywhere. As with the Pebble Mine, the land and people are too important to start this project.


Lastly, I’d like to tell the people who don’t live in our region to quit advocating for a mine that wouldn’t affect you. You don’t live here. Consequences to the air, land, or water here affect me and the people who live here, not you. We residents of this region have to deal with the effects of climate change. We choose to live here and face the challenges this country has to give. I was born here, and I choose to live here — this is my home.

Andrew Nolluk Greene grew up in Kotzebue and at Sisualik and lived in Ambler for five years. He has commercial fished in Kotzebue Sound for more than 40 years. He is also a hunter and trapper. Andrew lives in Kotzebue.

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