A Proposed Scar on Alaska’s Brooks Range – The Road to Ambler

April 24, 2014

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

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If Alaskan Governor Sean Parnell gets his way, an industrial road through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is in our future. Parnell has called for “Roads to Resources” in his efforts to subsidize corporate development in Alaska. These mega-projects have recently been shown to be fiscally irresponsible in the third edition of Easy to Start: Impossible to Finish by Lois Epstein with The Wilderness Society. Rural villages in the region have spoken out against the road with six individual communities and the Tanana Chief’s Conference passing resolutions opposing the Road to Ambler over the past year.

The Road to Ambler is not a new, innovative idea. The State of Alaska tried once already to push it through in the mid-1980s, and the project died because it was financially unfeasible and rural communities didn’t want the road. The road being proposed now would slice 220 miles through the Brooks Mountain Range that characterizes Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. The National Park Service touts this park and preserve as “premiere wilderness,” a vast landscape of intact ecosystems that do not contain any roads or trails.

The Road to Ambler would cross nearly 200 streams and rivers. It would require the construction of 14 major bridges, some over federally designated Wild and Scenic rivers. Native Alaskan traditional lands and hunting grounds would be disrupted. Human health would be put at risk if gravel containing the region’s naturally occurring asbestos is used. The road’s only purpose would be to access a mineral district full of massive sulfide deposits that are highly likely to produce acid mine drainage if hard rock mines are developed. Acid mine drainage destroys critical fish habitat and can be an ongoing problem for hundreds or thousands of years after mining is completed.

So why is the Alaskan Legislature still throwing money at the proposed Road to Ambler? The FY2015 capital budget is set to appropriate $8.5 million to continue studies for road planning. To date $18.5 million public dollars have already been appropriated to get this road through permitting, more than quadrupling the original $4.5 million estimated by the Alaska Department of Transportation in 2010 to finance planning and permitting phases of the project. In 2013 the failing project was transferred from ADOT to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), a public corporation that promotes private development, and state money continues to be squandered on the project. Is it right to allow corporate welfare to destroy Alaskan wilderness?

Alaska has long been the subject of imagination. Riches abound here – and not just in copper and gold. Here the land stretches for hundreds of miles uncrossed by roads, railways, or any sign of the industrial world. But undeveloped shouldn’t be confused with uninhabited. Native Alaskans have been living in the Brooks Range for thousands of years. They have hunted caribou and moose, fished for salmon and sheefish, carefully balancing human need with healthy sustainable wildlife populations. This is the land of ultimate sustainability, the land you pick up National Geographic to see. This is a place we need to protect, a place that would be ruined by unsustainable “Roads to Resources.”

When ANILCA (Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act) was made into law in 1980 the writers saw then that the Ambler Mineral District was a prime candidate for mineral development. Law makers wrote a clause into ANILCA that would allow for an access corridor to be granted through the “boot” of Gates of the Arctic Park and Preserve. There is no language in ANILCA, however, describing what this corridor should look like or when it should be built. The National Park Service and the Department of the Interior have been hard at work trying to figure out what their requirements for a right of way are before AIDEA formally applies for a right of way. This application is expected to be filed in May of 2014.

This is where you come in because we need your help to fight this road. Close your eyes and think of Alaska. Picture the fresh, clean rivers. Picture the wildlife you might see on the banks of those rivers. Breathe in the clean air, unpolluted by modern development. This place is worth protecting. Each year thousands of visitors come to Alaska to experience this land, to float the rivers, to backpack in the bush. Someday you, your children, or your grandchildren may want to visit a place like this. Your voice can help us protect the Alaska that you just pictured. Share your concerns on facebook or twitter with the tag #NoRoadtoAmbler.

For more information:

Please send your comments, questions, or donations to:
Attn: Jill Yordy
Clean Water and Mining Program Director
Northern Alaska Environmental Center
830 College Rd.
Fairbanks, AK 99701

Tags: resource extraction, road building