The Ambler Mining District has extensive mineral resources, including copper, silver, gold, lead and zinc. It has been characterized as one of the largest undeveloped copper-zinc mineral belts in the world. The area has been explored for decades, but development of the mineral resources has been limited due to a lack of transportation infrastructure. Once complete, the Ambler Access project will provide surface transportation access to the Ambler Mining District and enable further exploration and development of the area’s resources, providing for economic development.
In 2009, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) began evaluating multiple road and railroad routes that could provide access to the District. Access to the District was assessed for both east and west alignments to the District. As a result of these studies a potential corridor was identified that would connect the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District traversing the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve. In 2013, the project was transferred from DOT&PF to AIDEA.
AIDEA undertook the project with the goal of forming a Public-Private Partnership to finance, construct, operate and maintain the facility. The project design is modeled on AIDEA’s successful DeLong Mountain Transportation System (DMTS), which includes an industrial access road from the Red Dog Mine to the DMTS port. AIDEA worked with private industry to develop the DMTS industrial access road and the costs of road construction were paid back through tolls on road use.
Access to the Ambler Mining District through the route proposed is established in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).
ANILCA stands for the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that was passed by Congress in 1980 to resolve outstanding federal land claims. It impacted land uses and ownership rights between the federal government, the State of Alaska, and private landowners. The Act’s purposes are two-fold: to provide for “sufficient protection for the national interest in scenic, natural, cultural and environmental values on public lands in Alaska” while simultaneously providing “an adequate opportunity to satisfy the economic and social needs of the State of Alaska and its people.” The U.S. Supreme Court recently observed that “ANILCA … recognizes that Alaska is different – from its ‘unrivaled scenic and geologic values,’ to the ‘unique’ situation of its ‘rural residents dependent on subsistence uses,’ to ‘the need for development and use of Arctic resources with appropriate recognition and consideration given to the unique nature of the Arctic environment.” Sturgeon v. Frost, --U.S.--, 136 S.Ct. 1061, 1070, 194 L.Ed.2d 108 (2016).
ANILCA established 10 new federal parks, preserves, and monuments throughout Alaska while guaranteeing certain rights of access for subsistence, hunting, fishing, recreational and other economic and social purposes, including ensuring access to and from resource development areas within the State. In balancing these interests, Congress recognized the mineral potential of and the specific need for access to the Ambler Mining District to ensure the economic and social needs of the people of Alaska are met. Section 201(4) of ANILCA therefore provides a specific guarantee of access to the Ambler Mining District for these purposes. The AMDIAP application was filed pursuant to ANILCA § 201(4).