Brooks Range Council Opposing ‘Road to Resources’ Program

The Brooks Range Council is a grassroots movement opposing Governor Sean Parnell’s plan to develop a road to the Ambler Mining District.

The governor’s office has proposed nearly $29 million next year to advance his “Road to Resources” program, which includes $4 million for the planned road to Ambler. That money will be used for permitting and environmental work on the proposed roads, which the governor says will eventually allow access to resources near Umiat, Tanana and Ambler. The Ambler mining district is the proposed terminus of a 220-mile road from the Dalton Highway.

The governor calls the roads a chance to “grow economic opportunities” in rural Alaska and create jobs. But John Gaedeke, the chairman of the Brooks Range Council, says only industry will benefit from the roads.

The Ambler Mining District holds one of the largest undeveloped copper-zinc deposits in the world. A study commissioned by the Department of Transportation in September of last year estimated the cost of the Ambler road be $430 million, with annual maintenance costs over $8 million. The Brooks Range Council says the true cost could more than double that figure, and that the high-sulfide rock to be mined if the road is built would leech acid into the environment, harming wild fish populations and requiring costly annual cleanup long into the future.

Other critics of the road are also becoming more vocal. The community of Bettles in July passed a resolution officially opposing the road. Gaedeke says any road should be approved by the people who live there.

And to tell the governor “what they want,” the Brooks Range Council is collecting signatures for a petition calling on the governor to abandon the project.

So far, the Brooks Range Council hasn’t received any official response from the governor’s office. If the Ambler road project stays on schedule, DOT hopes to begin the permitting process for the road in October.

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Matthew Smith is a reporter at KNOM in Nome.

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