Ambler Mining District Project Overview
When Congress established Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in 1980, it reserved a vast and essentially untouched area of natural beauty and scientific value in Alaska's Brooks Range. The park's eight million acres are without roads and include glaciated valleys, rugged mountains, arctic tundra, and boreal forest inhabited by caribou, Dall's sheep, wolves, and bears. Congress recognized that the wild and undeveloped character of the land and the opportunities it affords for solitude and wilderness travel were a special value of the Park and Preserve.
Congress also recognized, and protected opportunities for subsistence use of park resources by local rural residents.
Before the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) created Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve (GAAR), the likelihood of rich mineral deposits in the Ambler Mining District, to the west of the park, had already been identified. Congress, in considering the establishment of GAAR, recognized that a transportation corridor to the Ambler Mining District might become desirable, and might connect with the Dalton Highway to the east of the Park. The upper Kobuk River area was included in Gates of the Arctic National Park as a Preserve. However, Congress made allowances for a transportation corridor across the new preserve in order to provide access for future development of mineral resources in the Ambler area.
ANILCA, Section 201(4)(b) states, "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."
In November 2010, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) notified the National Park Service (NPS) of its intention to submit an application for such access. A road from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District would be approximately 200 miles long. Approximately 20 miles of a potential access route would cross Gates of the Arctic National Preserve.
ANILCA 201(4)(d) directs the Department of Interior's and the Department of Transportation's response to a right-of-way application. The Secretaries of Interior and Transportation, upon receipt of an application, are to prepare an environmental and economic analysis for determining the most desirable route for the right-of-way, and for determining terms and conditions which may be required. This analysis is to be done in lieu of an environmental impact statement which would otherwise be required under section 102(2)(c) of the National Environmental Policy Act. (ANILCA §201(4)(d)).
The analysis is to consider:
- alternative routes across the Preserve which would result in fewer or less severe impacts on the preserve
- environmental, social, and economic impacts of the right of way on wildlife, fish, their habitat, and rural and traditional lifestyles including subsistence, and measures which should be taken to minimize negative impacts and enhance positive impacts.
The Secretaries are to complete their economic and environmental analysis within one year of the receipt of a right-of-way application; and to have the draft completed within nine months of receipt. Within 60 days of the completion of the environmental and economic analysis, the Secretaries are to agree upon a route for issuance of the right-of-way across the preserve. The right-of-way will be issued in accordance with the provisions of ANILCA § 1107. (ANILCA §201(4)(e)).