By Yereth Rosen
Alaska Beacon 

BLM says no to state plan for road into mining district


April 24, 2024

Citing what they characterized as unacceptable risks to wildlife habitat, water quality and the Native communities that depend on natural resources, the Biden administration on April 19 rejected the state’s controversial plan to put a 211-mile industrial road through largely wild areas of the Brooks Range foothills.

The decision came in a supplemental environmental impact statement released by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, a branch of the Department of the Interior. The document selected the “no action” alternative as its policy choice for the Ambler Access Project, meaning the BLM does not intend to issue a permit allowing the road to cross through lands managed by the agency.

The BLM’s decision on the Ambler Access Project reverses an action by former President Donald Trump’s administration. The Trump Department of the Interior granted a right-of-way allowing the project in 2020.

Litigation followed the Trump administration decision, and in response to the lawsuits the Biden administration launched its supplemental environmental impact statement process. That report, issued in draft form in October and final form on April 19, found that the Trump administration had vastly understated the road’s expected impacts to wildlife habitat, permafrost, water quality and the resources that Indigenous people need.

In its final supplemental impact statement, the BLM concluded that none of the development alternatives would be safe for the environment or subsistence resources.

The Ambler Access Project has been deeply divisive in Alaska.

It would provide the transportation access necessary to conduct commercial mining in the remote Ambler region of Arctic Northwest Alaska, where several exploratory mine sites hold copper and other valuable metals. It would cross through sensitive terrain, notably the range of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, one of the largest caribou herds in North America. It would also cross rivers and streams important to salmon runs.

The road proposal is sponsored by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state-owned development agency that intends to issue bonds to finance construction. The company that would be the main beneficiary is Ambler Metals, a joint venture of Trilogy Metals of Canada and South32 of Australia.

Most political leaders, along with business organizations and some Alaska Native groups are enthusiastic supporters, citing potential economic benefits of the mining activity it would enable.

Environmentalists, hunting groups and several Alaska Native tribal governments and organizations oppose it, citing threatened degradation of the environment and the lifestyles of people dependent on it. Some critics also question the economic soundness of a state-financed road to benefit private corporate interests.

On April 19, road supporters blasted the decision while opponents celebrated.

In a statement, Ambler Metals vowed to continue to fight for the road.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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