Pushback has started over proposed road construction that would connect the Dalton Highway to copper mining interests near the Northwest Arctic Borough village of Ambler. Built heavily over the tundra, the road would run parallel to the Brooks Range and bisect headwaters flowing out of the mountains for 211 miles. Part of the road would take advantage of a right of way through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. This barrier would necessarily affect water quality for both the Kobuk River, which drains into Kotzebue Sound, and the Koyukuk River, which feeds the Yukon. If approved, the road and mines would have potentially extreme impacts, including sedimentation, pollutants from accidents and runoff, and habitat destruction. Designing stable holding ponds for copper sludge and toxic tailings to last for hundreds of years seems unrealistic.
Caribou are also sensitive to human disturbances and are affected by migratory obstacles. Local knowledge, backed with radio-collar data, suggest that when caribou leaders cross a road the others will follow, but herds can be startled back for many miles, disrupting the normal cycles of mating and migration. The population of caribou in the Western Arctic herd is currently in decline.
Alaskans value access to clean water and natural resources that are food supplies, so why would we allow the Ambler Road to be built? What price are we willing to pay for a generation of intensive mineral extraction in a fragile ecosystem?
— Karen Keck
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