Interior cites flaws in Ambler Road decision

The Alatna River winds its way through a long valley at Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Photo courtesy of Sean Tevebaugh/NPS

Interior Department officials are asking the U.S. District Court to remand the Ambler Road right-of-way decision back to agencies to address what they contend are a number of fatal legal errors.

The federal agency on Tuesday, Feb. 22, asked the court to allow it to revisit its decision on the 211-mile industrial gravel road to the Ambler Mining District in the Northwest Arctic Borough.

The agency wants the right-of-way permits for the project left in place while addressing alleged legal errors in a prior National Historic Preservation Act analysis and its subsistence impacts, and doing a supplemental environmental analysis addressing those flaws.

Interior indicated it would suspend the right-of-way authorizations issued by the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service during that process, but asked the court to keep in place the right-of-way and other authorizations related to the project while it fixes those legal errors.

The district is a prospective copper-zinc. mineral belt, which has strong support from the administration of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who said the prospect would supply strategic minerals needed for renewables electronics and military defense.

Dunleavy has denounced the request that would delay the project. If constructed, the Amber Road could bring thousands of jobs and over $300 million in annual wages, the governor’s office said.


Opponents of the road applauded the Interior Department’s action. The Alaska congressional delegation also expressed criticism of Interior’s decision, saying the project now faces months of supplemental environmental analysis.

“We appreciate that Interior acknowledged the legal problems with the prior administration’s analysis of impacts to subsistence and cultural resources, but it is hugely troubling that it ignored a number of fundamental legal violations and is nevertheless allowing AIDEA to keep its permits for this destructive project,” said Suzanne Bostrom, senior staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska. “This project never should have been authorized in the first place, and the agencies can’t fix their broken analysis by papering over their mistakes after the fact. This administration should be prioritizing the health of communities and the Arctic, not politics and profits for outside corporations.”

The road would cut through Gates of the Arctic National Preserve, with potential threats to the people, water and wildlife of Northwest Alaska, impacting caribou migrations, rivers and streams, and the way of life for communities dependent on subsistence.