New Ambler Road decision by end of 2023
North of 60 Mining News – November 25, 2022
Last updated 11/23/2022 at 1:25pm
BLM anticipates publishing second draft EIS before mid-2023 and final record of decision by end of the year.
Trilogy Metals Inc. Nov. 23 reported that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management expects to reach a final decision on the Ambler Access Project – a proposed 211-mile road that would connect the Upper Kobuk Mineral Projects to Alaska's highway system – by the end of 2023.
This industrial access road would provide an economical means of delivering mineral concentrates containing copper, zinc, silver, cobalt, and other metals critical to clean energy and America's economic interests from mines in the Ambler Mining District in Northwest Alaska to the market.
The need for access to the Ambler District has been recognized by Washington D.C. lawmakers for more than 40 years. As such, Congress included special provisions in the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) meant to guarantee that a transportation corridor to this metals-rich region of Northwest Alaska would be approved.
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."
BLM, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Park Service issued a joint record of decision in 2020 that provided the federal authorizations needed to build a road that met this ANILCA mandate.
In March of this year, however, BLM notified the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) that it had suspended its authorizations issued under the Trump administration.
The federal land manager cited a lack of adequate consultation with Alaska tribes and evaluation of potential impacts the road might have on subsistence uses as reasons to remand the previously issued authorizations for further review.
Congresswoman Mary Peltola, who was elected to replace the late Don Young as Alaska's at large representative in the House, says the road is the only missing link to a project that has broad support, including among Alaska Native organizations.
"The mineral resources in the area, including copper, are of critical importance to the country," she inked in a Sept. 29 letter in support of the Ambler Road. "The minerals are there; the state and private interests in exploring and developing those resources are in place; the support of Alaska Native corporation and tribes is strong. What is missing is access, which the Project would provide."
In a Nov. 15 letter to Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan urged for a streamlined reevaluation of the proposed Ambler Road. The senators said the project has already been thoroughly evaluated under the federal permitting system, and further delays would hinder President Biden's clean energy goals by slowing access to one of the "largest undeveloped copper-zinc mineral belts in the world."
The senators cited a 2022 report by S&P Global that forecasts global copper demand to nearly double, from the 25 million metric tons currently needed per year to about 50 million metric tons per year by 2035, in order to build the technologies critical to achieving global net-zero carbon emissions goals by 2050.
"The message from S&P Global is remarkably clear: it is time to proceed with key projects, rather than delaying or denying them," the Alaska senators penned in their letter.
On Nov. 15, BLM submitted a status report on its supplemental environmental impact statement to further evaluate subsistence impacts on fish and caribou habitats and address the desire for additional tribal consultation.
The federal land manager, which falls under the U.S. Department of Interior, said it is currently evaluating the input from an Ambler Road supplemental environmental impact statement public comment period that ended on Nov. 4 and determining whether additional impacts, if any, should be more thoroughly assessed.
BLM currently anticipates publishing a draft SEIS by mid-year, which will be open for public comment upon publication. Based on the input on the draft SEIS, the federal agency plans complete a final SEIS, conduct final pre-decision consultation with Alaska Native tribes and corporations, and issue a final record of decision on the Ambler Road by the end of 2023.