Ambler Road granted 50-year right-of-way
AIDEA, federal agencies sign docs for Ambler District access North of 60 Mining News – January 15, 2021
Last updated 1/14/2021 at 5:31pm
U.S. Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority have signed documents that provide a 50-year right-of-way across federal lands for the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Road.
"This right-of-way is the culmination of years of research, planning, and collaboration," said AIDEA Executive Director Alan Weitzner. "The signing of this permit is a major milestone. It's the first step in a multi-year phase of feasibility and predevelopment."
In July, federal agencies issued a record of decision that authorized a right-of-way for the proposed 211-mile road to the Ambler Mining District in Northwest Alaska.
"The permits are for a controlled industrial access road with stipulations that protect subsistence and environmental resources," said Weitzner.
This private industrial road will provide the surface transportation access vital to developing the Arctic Mine and other deposits that are part of Ambler Metals LLC's Upper Kobuk Mineral Projects in the Ambler District.
Ambler Metals, a 50-50 joint venture partnership between Trilogy Metals Inc. and South32 Ltd., is advancing the permitting and development of mines in the Ambler District in partnership with NANA, the Northwest Alaska Native regional corporation.
According to a 2020 feasibility study, a mine at the Arctic deposit would produce 1.9 billion pounds of copper, 2.3 billion lb of zinc, 388 million lb of lead, 386,000 ounces of gold, and 40.6 million oz of silver over an initial 12-year mine life.
Ambler Metals' UKMP also hosts Bornite, a world-class copper-cobalt deposit about 16 miles southwest of the proposed Arctic Mine, as well as a series of volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits and occurrences along a 70-mile (100 kilometers) belt that runs across the Ambler Mining District.
Mines at Arctic, Bornite and other deposits developed in the district would produce concentrates that need to be shipped to refineries. The ability to truck these concentrates to the Alaska railhead at Fairbanks is the primary reason the Ambler Road is needed.
The Ambler Road access approved by federal agencies 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, the most direct and shortest route between the mining district and Alaska's highway system.
This was the preferred route of AIDEA, a public corporation of the state that is expected to build and maintain the Ambler Road.
While typically it would be nearly impossible to get permission to build a road across a national park, U.S. lawmakers included a provision in the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) that mandates passage across Gates of the Arctic.
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."
This provision of ANILCA, supported by Congressman Don Young and the late Senator Ted Stevens, was put in place to ensure the responsible development and transportation of the copper, gold, silver, cobalt, zinc, and other valuable minerals in the Ambler District.
While access to the Ambler District was put into statute four decades ago, the National Environmental Policy Act permitting process and public engagement was still required before the final route could be approved.
"The public's active involvement resulted in meaningful design changes, such as additional bridge crossings and enhancements to culverts to protect fish passage," said AIDEA Chairman Dana Pruhs. "This kind of collaboration and conversation needs to continue so we can continue to enhance the project with Alaskan landowners, stakeholders, and user groups."
Development of the road and mines in the Ambler District is expected to provide jobs and an economic boost to Northwest Alaska and the state as a whole.
"Alaskans will benefit from the Ambler Road Access Project," said Gov. Mike Dunleavy. "Responsible natural resource development like the mineral-rich Ambler Mining District is key to providing high wage jobs that can support Alaskans and their families. We develop our resources in Alaska more responsibly than anyone else."