Alaska tribal groups sue federal government over Ambler road

The community of Ambler along the Kobuk river as seen from the air
Aerial view of Ambler and the Kobuk River in the summer. (Courtesy of the National Park Service via UAF Gates of the Arctic Research Portal)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A tribal consortium and five tribal governments from the Interior have filed a lawsuit against the federal government to stop a road project that would carve through wilderness in northwest Alaska to support mining in a mineral-rich area.

The Tanana Chiefs Conference representing 42 tribes in Interior Alaska was among the entities suing over the industrial road to the Ambler Mining District, The Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday.

The conference said in a statement Wednesday that a federal review of the regional impact of the 200-mile project was “rushed, flawed, premature, and inadequate.”

The other plaintiffs include the tribal governments of Alatna, Allakaket, Evansville, Huslia and Tanana.

Victor Joseph, chief of Tanana Chiefs Conference, said the Ambler road could lead to multiple mining projects with the potential to harm the health of residents and wildlife resources.

“The concerns about these issues were not addressed by any of the government entities involved in the decision to approve the road,” Joseph said.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include Chad Padgett, Alaska director of the Bureau of Land Management, and David Hobbie, Alaska region chief for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as other federal officials and agencies.

The land management bureau made a joint decision with the Army Corps in July to issue a federal permit for the road, which is expected to cost at least $500 million.

The state said funds and bonds from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority could be combined with private investments to pay the road costs with a repayment commitment from mining companies.

The gravel road would link Alaska’s road system north of Fairbanks to the mining district ending near Ambler and other villages. A portion of the road would cross the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.

Lesli Ellis-Wouters, Alaska Bureau of Land Management communications director, said the agency stands by the environmental review underlying the decision to open the road while meeting requirements of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

She noted the agency held more than 35 public meetings in affected communities over three years.

“Our common sense actions are lawful and based on the best available science,” Ellis-Wouters said in a statement.

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