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NANA withdraws from Ambler Road

North of 60 Mining News - May 10, 2024

Northwest Alaska Native corporation disengages from proposed road; will continue to defend right to build future road to the Ambler Mining District.

The Ambler Road suffered another setback with NANA Regional Corporation's decision to withdraw its involvement with the proposed 211-mile industrial access to the mineral-rich Ambler Mining District within the NANA region of Northwest Alaska.

NANA, which owns lands within the Ambler District enriched with copper, cobalt, and other metals, has traditionally supported the concept of some type of surface access to this mineral-rich area. The Alaska Native Claim Settlement Act regional corporation for Northwest Alaska, however, has decided that the Ambler Road in its current form does not meet the values and interests of its shareholders.

NANA says its board feels that the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) has not sufficiently addressed controlled access along the proposed road, protection of subsistence resources, community benefits, and other shareholder concerns.

"Our Elders fought to retain our ancestral lands in the Upper Kobuk, emphasizing both their subsistence value and mineral resource potential. It is our responsibility to steward these lands for future generations," said NANA Chair Gia Hanna.

AIDEA contends that it has worked diligently to provide NANA with information about its plans to mitigate impacts on subsistence, as well as for workforce development and other benefits associated with the Ambler Access Project (AAP), the official name of the proposed Ambler Road.

"This project represents a significant opportunity for economic development and job creation across the region. We remain committed to consulting with local communities and tribes to ensure their concerns are addressed," said AIDEA Executive Director Randy Ruaro.

While NANA's board has decided to withdraw from the Ambler Road in its current form, the Northwest Alaska Native corporation does not agree with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's recent decision to deny permits for the Ambler Road.

NANA says BLM's "no action" determination for the Ambler Road "goes beyond the law in several aspects."

"While NANA is disengaging from the AAP, we maintain our interest in future mineral development in the region that aligns with the expectations of our shareholders," said NANA President and CEO John Lincoln.

Expiring access permit

In addition to withdrawing from AAP, NANA's board has decided not to renew AIDEA's surface access permit, which is set to expire this year. This decision impacts roughly 25 miles of the proposed Ambler Road as it crosses NANA land at its western end.

AIDEA said this decision would mean it would need to reroute AAP on state lands to the north.

"We respect the NANA Board's decision and will adjust our plans accordingly," said Ruaro.

Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority

In the meantime, AIDEA will continue to engage Shungnak, Ambler, Kobuk, and other communities within the NANA region to actively seek their involvement and input.

Several western Alaska Native villages have come out in support of the Ambler Road.

"Today in my hometown we are paying $15 a gallon [for fuel] and if things don't change in the next few years, how are we going to warm our houses? How are we going to provide for our family? I support the road," said Miles Cleveland, Sr., acting first chief of Ambler Village.

"Allakaket Village passed a resolution of support to reflect our collective commitment to economic growth and creating opportunities for our people. The Ambler Road is a pathway to a better future for our community and ensuring a better future for generations to come," said Allakaket First Chief PJ Simon. "We will continue to work together with neighboring tribes to support responsible resource development because we need jobs to live a subsistence lifestyle."

Defending Ambler access

NANA, which owns the land where the Red Dog Mine is located and is a partner in the world-class zinc mine, has long been an advocate for finding a balance between resource development and maintaining a subsistence lifestyle.

"For more than 40 years NANA has successfully developed our resources alongside trusted industry partners in ways that respect our way of life and advance our region as a whole," said Lincoln.

The ANCSA corporation says it will resist any attempts by the federal government to deny Alaska Native corporations control over Indigenous-owned lands and diminish their role in decision-making affecting those lands.

As such, NANA will defend access to its region as mandated by Congress in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).

This congressional mandate was provided in Section 201 (4) of ANILCA, which 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."

NANA says this guarantee of access to the Ambler Mining District could benefit both NANA and neighboring Doyon shareholders should they find the right time and partner to build the Ambler Road.

"We intend to vigorously defend our right to pursue resource and infrastructure development in alignment with our values," said Hanna.

In the right to build an industrial access road that connects the Ambler Mining District to Alaska's highway system, AIDEA and NANA are aligned.

"I blame the Biden administration and [Interior] Secretary Haaland for years of frustrating delay and imposing tens of millions of dollars in delay costs on a road that is required in federal law by the Statehood Act and ANILCA," said Ruaro. "Secretary Haaland does not have the legal right to break the solemn promise made by Congress in 1959 that Alaska would own lands and minerals and could access and develop those lands to generate revenue for schools, energy supplies, and healthcare of Alaskans. Nor does Secretary Haaland have the right to break the promise of access to the Ambler Mining District set by Congress in 1980 in ANILCA."

While NANA and AIDEA agree that BLM, which lies within the U.S. Department of Interior, overstepped its legal boundaries in its Ambler Road decision, their paths seem to have diverged when it comes to who should build the road and when.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Publisher

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Over his more than 16 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.


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