New environmental analysis finds additional problems with Ambler Road construction

A new federal analysis of the proposed Ambler road in Northwest Alaska says the proposed 211-mile mining highway would create more environmental and social problems than previously estimated.

The Bureau of Land Management released the reanalysis on Friday, almost 20 months after the federal government voluntarily admitted that an analysis conducted under the Trump administration had been flawed.

A final environmental impact analysis and a decision on a federal permit needed to build the road are expected next year, and Friday’s reanalysis is a key step on the development timeline.

The Trump administration had approved the project in 2020, but that approval was challenged in court, leading to the reanalysis.

The road, backed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority — Alaska’s state-owned development bank — is intended to connect the Dalton Highway with a mineral belt in the mountains east of Kotzebue. The road would travel through Gates of the Arctic National Park.

While the region’s minerals are viewed as important to green-energy development, the road would disrupt traditional hunting and fishing and likely cause more permafrost to thaw in the area, the reanalysis found.

AIDEA said in a prepared statement that it is reviewing in detail the 1,200-page analysis and will be responding publicly as soon as it can digest the information.


The Tanana Chiefs Conference, which opposed the road project in court, issued a statement saying that the analysis “is still inadequate, particularly in its analysis of subsistence and environmental justice impacts.”

Environmental groups also oppose the road.

“We maintain that an industrial road in the Brooks Range would be a disaster on multiple levels,” said Katie McClellan, mining impacts and energy manager for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.

The members of Alaska’s congressional delegation support the road’s construction, they said in a prepared statement Friday.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the minerals extracted over the road would allow the United States to reduce its reliance on foreign imports, and Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, said that projects in the district would create good-paying jobs within the region.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, noted that the increased harms found by the reanalysis likely set “more hurdles to access one of the biggest deposits of much-needed critical minerals in our country.”

Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.