The Hunter, Volume 2022, April - Page 7

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Ambler Access Project Update — Keeping Our Options Open for the Future

Mineral development in the Ambler Mining District , which includes the Upper Kobuk Mineral Projects ( UKMP ) partially located on NANA lands , has the opportunity to provide for economic sustainability for the NANA region into the future . Access to minerals and getting them to markets will require transportation infrastructure .

The Ambler Access Project ( AAP ) is a potential 211-mile private industrial access gravel road proposed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority ( AIDEA ) to connect the Ambler Mining District and the Dalton Highway . AIDEA is the same entity that operates the Red Dog Mine DeLong Mountain Transportation System . NANA supports AIDEA ’ s work on this project , given the potential economic benefits to the NANA region and beyond .
With Red Dog Mine ’ s planned closure in about a decade , NANA is working hard now to plan for a future that includes shareholder jobs , revenue to invest in our shareholders and region , and a source of funds for the Northwest Arctic Borough , whose annual budget is nearly entirely funded by the Red Dog Mine .
A core component of the AAP is federal authorization to cross the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve ( the Preserve ), as Congress specifically allowed in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 ( ANILCA ). On July 23 , 2020 , the Bureau of Land Management ( BLM ) issued a Joint Record of Decision ( JROD ) on behalf of itself and other federal agencies granting AIDEA a right-ofway
through the Preserve to explore the feasibility of the AAP . The JROD did not permit construction of the road ; instead , it specified requirements AIDEA must meet before being considered for construction permits , including tribal engagement , the establishment of a subsistence advisory committee , and cultural site identification .
Essential minerals were first identified in the Ambler Mining District in 1948 . Over the years , various modes of transportation to access and export these minerals have been considered , including a pipeline , rail , and road . In 2009 , the Alaska Department of Transportation ( ADOT ) weighed these options in the Western Alaska Access Planning Study published after engagement with all villages in the NANA region .
NANA participated in these meetings and reinforced the resounding input from the villages that the preferred surface transportation option was a road , and if the state or any entity wanted to pursue a road it must be private , environmental and subsistence impacts must be studied and minimized , and a subsistence committee must be formed to advise on construction and operations . This input resulted in the state transferring the project to AIDEA to draw from years of experience at Red Dog , informed the selection of the route with the least impact to subsistence and the environment , and the critical decision to keep the road private to protect subsistence and the Iñupiat way of life .
After BLM issued the JROD , two separate court cases were filed to challenge the decision – one by nine conservation groups and the other by
Tanana Chiefs Conference and five of its member villages . The plaintiffs alleged the federal government cut corners in reviewing the AAP ’ s potential impacts on the environment , subsistence and cultural and historical sites .
NANA intervened in the cases to defend NANA ’ s long-term interest to preserve the option to pursue access to the Ambler Mining District as provided by ANILCA . NANA ’ s decision was informed by the support of the JROD by the Native Villages of Ambler , Kobuk and Shungnak , given the potential for job opportunities and for the road to reduce the extremely high cost of living they are experiencing now that goods , gas and stove oil must be flown in since climate change has made river barge service virtually impossible .
During the week of Feb . 7 , 2022 , at a moment in the lawsuit when there was risk of the Department of the Interior ( DOI ) requesting the court vacate the JROD and eliminate the project , NANA and regional leadership traveled to Washington D . C . to voice support for the JROD . The group included Inuqtauq Miles Cleveland Sr ., chair of the Native Village of Ambler ; Naasri Fred Sun Sr ., chair of the Native Village of Shungnak ; Igitangluk Henry Horner Sr ., vice chair of the Native Village of Kobuk ; and Aaquuraqpauraq Larry Westlake Sr ., chair of the Regional Elders Council ; along with Piquk Linda Lee , NANA board chair ; Aġnaaqłuk John Lincoln , president / CEO ; Qaulluq Liz Cravalho , vice president of lands ; and Kutraluk Bolton Sr ., director of government affairs . The group met with top officials at the DOI ,
White House and Senate Committee on Indian Affairs staff , as well as Alaska ’ s late Congressman Don Young and Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski .
The influence of the trip was significant , and on Feb . 22 instead of requesting the court vacate the JROD the DOI requested that the court send the JROD back to the agency for additional work on impacts to subsistence , the environment , cultural and historical sites , and consultation with tribes .
NANA does not support returning the JROD to the agency for additional work , as over a decade of work on the JROD by a multitude of career professionals at federal , state , and local agencies , and engagement with tribes , NANA and other stakeholders has been thorough . If the JROD is returned to the DOI , the additional work needs to be specific in scope with a clear , reasonable timeline and DOI must engage in ongoing consultation with NANA and tribes .
NANA , tribes and others in the region have participated in good faith throughout the life of the AAP review process , and from the start , this participation has helped shape the project . So far , seven of the eleven Tribes in the NANA region have passed resolutions in support of the JROD and the processes it lays out , and the Northwest Arctic Leadership Team has submitted a letter of support . NANA will continue to vigorously defend access to the Ambler Mining District , as provided by ANILCA , and will pursue a process that positions NANA and communities to negotiate for subsistence protections , local benefits and local engagement every step of the way .
Proposed Route
Allaka lakaket
Dalton Hwy .

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The Hunter | 2022 April