Alaska in Brief

New environmental study of Ambler road project kicks off with call for public input

By: - September 20, 2022 4:00 am
A group of caribou from the Western Arctic Herd swim across the Kobuk River during fall migration in 2017. Much of the debate over the Ambler road and the associated mine development concern impacts to the herd, one of the largest in North America. (Photo by Matt Cameron/National Park Service)

A group of caribou from the Western Arctic Herd swim across the Kobuk River during fall migration in 2017. Much of the debate over the Ambler road and the associated mine development concern impacts to the herd, one of the largest in North America. (Photo by Matt Cameron/National Park Service)

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management said it will start collecting public input on how it should carry out a new environmental review of the controversial Ambler Access Project.

The scoping period for a supplemental environmental impact statement on the project starts on Tuesday and will run for 45 days, the BLM said Friday. Scoping is the initial phase in the review process in which issues to be studied and addressed are identified.

“Diverse, on-the-ground perspectives are vital in promoting co-stewardship and ensuring resilient landscapes,” BLM Fairbanks District Manager Geoff Beyersdorf said in a statement. “We are eager to hear from the public, Tribes and corporations to aid in helping us make an informed, durable decision.” 

The BLM committed to conduct the supplemental environmental impact statement to correct what Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and other department officials said were deficiencies in an environmental review conducted by the Trump administration.

The Trump administration followed up its own EIS process by granting a right-of-way in 2020 that allows the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to proceed with the 211-mile road through the Brooks Range foothills to the isolated Ambler mining district in northwestern Alaska.

AIDEA, a state corporation focused on development, is proposing to build the road to enable commercial development of mines that would produce copper and other metals. The main beneficiary of the road would be Ambler Metals LLC, a joint venture of Vancouver-based Trilogy Metals Inc. and the Australian mining company South32. NANA Corp., the regional Native corporation in that part of the state, also has a partnership arrangement because it owns some of the mining property.

The commitment to conduct a supplemental EIS and to pause the right-of-way approval, announced in February, came in response to lawsuits that sought to overturn the Trump administration approval.

Critics say the road and its associated development will damage habitat used by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, one of the largest caribou herds in North America, and important environmental and cultural values. Haaland and other Interior officials concluded that the Trump administration’s review did not properly consult with tribal governments or consider subsistence and cultural concerns.

A draft supplemental environmental impact statement, or SEIS, is expected to be published in the second quarter of 2023, the Interior Department said in a status report filed Friday in U.S. District Court. Notice of the start of scoping, one of the formal steps required under the National Environmental Policy Act, emphasizes that “input of Alaska Native Tribes and Corporations will be of critical importance to the SEIS,” Interior’s status report said.

The BLM’s approach to the impact statement has been criticized by both road supporters and opponents.

Supporters of the road argue that the new environmental analysis is unnecessary and amounts to a delaying tactic by the Biden administration. Opponents of the road argue that the right-of-way should have been scrapped entirely rather than suspended and that the new analysis is too narrowly focused, leaving some deficiencies unaddressed.

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Yereth Rosen
Yereth Rosen

Yereth Rosen came to Alaska in 1987 to work for the Anchorage Times. She has been reporting on Alaska news ever since, covering stories ranging from oil spills to sled-dog races. She has reported for Reuters, for the Alaska Dispatch News, for Arctic Today and for other organizations. She covers environmental issues, energy, climate change, natural resources, economic and business news, health, science and Arctic concerns -- subjects with a lot of overlap. In her free time, she likes to ski and watch her son's hockey games.

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