North of 60 Mining News - The mining newspaper for Alaska and Canada's North

By Shane Lasley
Mining News 

Thou shall build road to Ambler District

Nearly 40 years ago, Congress enshrined Ambler Road in law North of 60 Mining News – October 4, 2019


Last updated 9/26/2020 at 10:40am

Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Project BLM Gates of the Arctic

Shane Lasley

A rainbow arcs over Bornite, a large copper deposit at the western end of the proposed road to the Ambler Mining District in Northwest Alaska.

The Ambler Mining District in Northwest Alaska covers a more than 70-mile (115 kilometers) stretch of Earth's crust that is rich in a variety of precious, base and critical minerals. So rich, that nearly 40 years ago U.S. Congress wrote road access to Ambler into the laws of the land.

Today, much of the Ambler District is covered by the Upper Kobuk Mineral Projects (UKMP), a partnership that brought Bornite and a number of other copper-rich prospects on Alaska Native lands owned by NANA Corp. together with the world-class Arctic deposit and dozens of similar volcanogenic massive sulfide prospects located on state mining claims owned by Trilogy Metals Inc.

So far, Trilogy has outlined roughly 9 billion pounds of copper, 3.6 billion lb of zinc, 628 million lb of lead, 77 million lb of cobalt, 58 million ounces of silver and 770,000 oz of gold at Arctic and Bornite, the two most advanced UKMP projects.

These metals also happen to be concentrated into deposits with considerable grades. The reserves at Arctic, the most advanced deposit in the Ambler District, averages roughly 5 percent copper-equivalent, which considers the value of all the metals found there.

"That is about 10 times the average grade being mined in open-pit mines around the world today," Trilogy Metals Senior Technical Advisor Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse said during an Oct. 3 breakfast hosted by the Resource Development Council of Alaska.

Bornite, which trails Arctic by roughly five years in terms of development strategy, averages around 1.6 percent copper.

And, when you look across the wider Ambler District, there are dozens of historical deposits, targets and occurrences with similar potential. Combined, these prospects and deposits could provide a domestic source of an assortment of increasingly important metals and jobs to Alaskans for generations.

This rich trove, however, is 211 miles beyond the beaten path – at least for now.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is working toward finalizing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a road that will allow delivery of metal-rich concentrates from this world-class mining district to global markets.

EIS comments extended

BLM published the draft EIS for the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Project (AMDIAP) on August 30, triggering a requisite comment period for this document that details the parameters and potential environmental impacts of the proposed transportation route colloquially known as the Ambler Road.

This comment period was originally slated to run until Oct. 14 but was extended by 15 days to provide extra time to provide those participating in the fall hunting season extra time to review and provide input on the plans outlined in the DEIS.

While the Ambler Road is a key piece to Trilogy's plans to develop a mine at Arctic, followed by potential future operations at Bornite and other deposits in the Ambler District, the company supports the decision to provide time for all stakeholders to weigh in on the proposal.

"We welcome the extension of the comment period for the AMDIAP draft EIS given that we believe that it is imperative for all stakeholders to have an opportunity to have input into this project which is expected to make a significant positive economic impact for the people of Northwest Alaska," said Jim Gowans, interim president and CEO, Trilogy Metals.

Thou shall allow passage

Like all such studies under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Ambler Road draft EIS evaluates the impacts of various alternatives and then then a choice is made on which alternative to approve.

Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which would build and maintain the Ambler Road and be paid back from collecting tolls from Arctic and other mines developed in the Ambler District, applied for the permits to build AMDIAP in 2015.

The route preferred by AIDEA, referred to in the DEIS as Alternative A, runs nearly due west from the Dalton Highway along the south side of the Brooks Range through a 26-mile stretch of the Gates of the Arctic National Park and onward to the Ambler District.

Due to its direct route and shortest distance, Alternative A is expected to be the least impactful of the four routes being considered.

Alternative B primarily follows the same route as A but jogs to the south prior to cross a slightly narrower 18-mile section of the Gates of the Arctic National Park.

U.S. lawmakers included a special thou shall allow passage across Gates of the Arctic provision when they passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) in 1980.

Section 201 (4) of ANILCA reads, "Congress finds that there is a need for access for surface transportation purposes across the Western (Kobuk River) unit of the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve (from the Ambler Mining District to the Alaska Pipeline Haul Road) and the Secretary shall permit such access in accordance with the provisions of this subsection."

ANILCA directs that an environmental and economic analysis be prepared for the right-of-way across NPS lands to determine a preferred road alignment; and develop appropriate terms and conditions for the right-of-way permit.

To accommodate this congressional requirement to build a road across Gates of the Arctic, the National Park Service is carrying out Draft Environmental and Economic Analysis for alternatives A and B. This analysis is being carried out in parallel with the EIS, including the extension of the public comment period to Oct. 29.

A third route included in the draft EIS, Alternative C, is a 332-mile road that would depart the Dalton Highway just north of the Yukon River and travel northwest to the Ambler District.

Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Project BLM Gates of the Arctic

U.S. Bureau of Land Management

A map of the three routes being considered in the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed road to the Ambler Mining District.

This option is not viable on a number of fronts. Besides being the most environmentally impactful, this longer route would cost much more to build. And, when it is finished it would only provide access to Arctic and Bornite. This would mean additional roads would need to be built to reach other deposits in the Ambler District that are otherwise along the routes of both alternatives A and B.

All EIS processes include a "no action" alternative. In the case of the Ambler Road, this is Alternative D.

While the no action alternative is required, Van Nieuwenhuyse contends that Congress stipulated in ANILCA that a road shall be allowed to the Ambler District, making Alternative D moot.

"To me, what this means is the no action alternative, although it needs to be included in any NEPA process, it really shouldn't be and can't be selected," Nieuwenhuyse said, referring to ANILCA Section 201 (4).

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Publisher

Over his more than 13 years of covering mining and mineral exploration, Shane has become renowned for his ability to report on the sector in a way that is technically sound enough to inform industry insiders while being easy to understand by a wider audience.

Phone: (907) 726-1095


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