Trump administration grants approval for Ambler mining road

The controversial road would serve a new mining prospect, but also cut through a national park, and the habitat of North America's largest caribou herd.

By Yereth Rosen - July 24, 2020
Caribou from the Western Arctic Caribou Herd traverse the Noatak National Preserve in northwest Alaska in September 2012. (National Park Service)

The Trump administration on Thursday approved the controversial plan to build a 211-mle road into a remote part of Arctic Alaska to enable mining development there.

The Bureau of Land Management, in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps and Engineers and other cooperating agencies, released its record of decision on the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access project.

The road, which the state of Alaska plans to build, is intended to make mining development commercially feasible in the isolated Ambler mining district in northwestern Alaska. The area is rich in copper and other minerals, but there is no road or waterway access.

The road is highly controversial because it would cross through environmentally important areas, including the range of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, currently the largest in North America. It would also cross a section of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, the nation’s northernmost national park. And many critics question the project on economic and fiscal grounds, arguing that the state should not be spending money in this way to prop up private companies.

The mining company most involved in the Ambler district is Vancouver-based Trilogy Metals Inc. It has partnered with an Australian company, South32, to pursue the Ambler project.

In a statement, the Department of the Interior hailed the project as a “Road to Resources.”

“President Trump has long recognized why investments in infrastructure are vital to meet the urgent need for critical minerals,” Casey Hammond, principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said in the statement. “The Trump Administration’s success today is a game changer for our nation’s ability to secure American prosperity and national security.”

In the Interior statement, the three members of Alaska’s Congressional delegation and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, all Republicans, hailed the decision.

“Federal approval of the Ambler Road is both timely and significant for Alaska’s future,” sen. Lisa Murkowski said in the statement. “This project will provide the access needed to responsibly develop a number of high-grade mineral deposits, hopefully leading to greater production of copper, cobalt, zinc, silver, gold, and other metals.”

“The prospect of hundreds of good-paying jobs, from the Ambler road and resulting projects, in Northwest Alaska is good news for the incredible, hardworking Alaskans who live in this region,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said in the statement.

“I thank President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt for recognizing the importance of domestically sourcing the minerals needed to power our nation’s renewable energy revolution,” Dunleavy said in the statement.

But tribal governments along the proposed road route are vehemently opposed to the plan, and they and environmental groups continue to fight it.

“The stateʼs willingness to spend public funds on a private project that so clearly does not serve the public interest should be alarming to all Alaskans,” Solaris Gillispie, clean water and mining manager at the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, said in a statement. “As the communities in the region have stated again and again, the impacts to the regionʼs water, food, and cultural sovereignty are unacceptable. Alaska’s wealth is in our lands, waters, and people, and we will not allow the state to trade that wealth for multinational companies’ profit.”