Ambler Mining District Current Status
UPDATE: FEBRUARY 27, 2014
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 access across the Kobuk River area of Gates of the Arctic National Preserve.
The Alaska Legislature has funded ADOT&PF to study the feasibility of constructing a road from the Dalton Highway (Trans Alaska Pipeline Haul Road) to the mining district. Those studies have begun, and overland routes to the mining district, including two potential route corridors through the GAAR Preserve, have been identified.
In 2013 the State of Alaska assigned the lead for the Ambler Mining District Access project to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), a public corporation of the State of Alaska.
AIDEA is working with DOWL HKM to acquire environmental and economic data to inform road feasibility and route decisions. The studies are independent of the environmental and economic evaluations required of the NPS.
In 2013 the NPS issued research permits for State sponsored research activities in the Park and Preserve related to resources which may impact or be impacted by a road. The research projects are centered in the southern portion of GAAR, and include a snow survey, fisheries surveys, a wetlands and wetland vegetation survey, hydrologic and hydraulic surveys of the Kobuk and the Reed Rivers, and cultural resource reconnaissance surveys.
An NPS team of park and regional staff was formed in May 2013 to address NPS responsibilities in responding to a right-of-way application. The NPS team will be working with the Federal Highway Administration, agents for Secretary of Transportation.
ANILCA, in creating GAAR, declared that it shall be managed:
The management direction of GAAR is to maintain the wild and undeveloped character of the area, provide continued opportunities for wilderness recreational activities, protect park resources and values, and provide continued opportunities for subsistence uses by local residents, where such uses are traditional. Although sport hunting is not allowed within Gates of the Arctic National Park, non-local harvest of game is an activity allowed within the two Gates of the Arctic National Preserve units. Commercial services operators transport visitors by air into the park and preserve. To prepare for a possible right-of-way application, GAAR has initiated projects designed to provide necessary information for an environmental and economic analysis.
Three current research projects in the Kobuk River area will provide relevant information on archaeology, bears, and natural soundscapes. Additional research on water resources, fisheries resources, and caribou is planned for next year. Information on wilderness and recreational values of GAAR, and potential effects of a road on those values will be needed to inform the environmental analysis.
Subsistence uses are permitted in GAAR. Alatna, Allakaket, Ambler, Anaktuvuk Pass, Bettles, Evansville, Hughes, Kobuk, Nuiqsut, Shungnak, and Wiseman are subsistence resident zone communities of GAAR. The NPS is required to evaluate impacts of permitting a right-of-way on subsistence uses and needs (ANILCA §810). The NPS is planning community visits to talk about subsistence uses and important traditional cultural resources in the Preserve. Research data will help inform park managers about impacts of a road corridor through the preserve.
The NPS is working with the Federal Highway Administration to identify additional information needed for a decision on preferred road corridors through the preserve. The Federal Highway Administration is the agent for the Secretary of Transportation in evaluating a corridor through the Kobuk River area. They provide extensive technical expertise on road design.
The United States has a unique legal and political relationship with Indian tribal governments, and in recognition of that special relationship and pursuant to direction given by the Secretary of the Interior, the NPS will consult on a government to government basis with federally recognized tribes whose interests may be directly affected by the right-of-way permit. Consultation will be conducted in good faith to secure informed decision making, and will occur throughout the environmental and economic analysis described in ANILCA 201 (d) . (DOI Policy on Consultation with Indian Tribes, 2011)
In compliance with Congressional direction, NPS will consult with corporations formed through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 whose interests may be directly and substantially affected by a right-of-way permit. (Appropriations Act of 2004 & 2005)