AIDEA Briefs Federal Commission On Ambler Road

The state says it will cost as much as $400 million to build a controversial proposed mining road to Ambler. But some opponents of the road think that figure is too low.

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A conference call about federal polices on Alaska lands became part of the ongoing debate about a proposed mining road to Ambler, with the total cost of the road officially projected to be as high as $400 million—a number that’s interesting as much for what it leaves in as out.

On Friday, the Citizens Advisory Commission on Federal Areas–CAFCA– met in Anchorage for one of it’s three meetings each year. The Ambler Road project was discussed due to plans which call for a portion of the road to pass through the Gates of the Arctic National ark.

Mark Davis, a deputy director with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA—which is handling the project for the state—gave an overall cost prediction for the project.

“I gave you the potential estimates of this road,” Davis told the CACFA members, “which would be first brought in as a pioneer road and then maybe expanded, so between $190 million and $300 million.”

That’s optimistic. And other AIDEA representatives are quick clarify that is a very rough estimate, one which will likely be revised once the EIS study is completed. Maryelen Tuttle works for Dowl HKM, the company contracted to manage the road project, and says a more conservative range is $200-$400. And that’s just for construction—it doesn’t include all the preliminary studies or permitting, which has so far cost the state just under $13 million, and could be as high as $60 million by the time ground is broken.

“The idea that the road costs $100-$300 million dollars is totally, totally fallacious,” Ron Yarnell, a wilderness lodge owner near the road’s proposed route, told board members.

“The bridges on this road are huge. I mean, the bridges on this job alone are gonna be $100-$200 million dollars,” Yarnell continued.

Yarnell also questions AIDEA’s claim that the industrial road will be closed down and remediated once operations have stopped in the mining district the road would service. It was a point picked up by Jill Yordy, a researcher with the Northern Center in Fairbanks, too.

“Today it was mentioned that the road could possibly be reclaimed, and yet I’ve heard no mention about the cost of reclaiming the road. And who would pay for those—who’s shoulders would that financial burden fall on?” Yordy asked. “If it is going to be AIDEA or the private entity that pays for and maintains the road then those costs should be included in the road proposal and considered from the beginning.”

In his response to the public’s testimony, Davis explained that costs for road reclamation will be figured during the EIS process. After the meeting Tuttle clarified that the eventual financing model will use tolls to collect repayment from the road’s private users. Reclamation, as well as maintenance and preliminary costs, will be built into how much the tolls charge.

Investigations into feasibility and design options for the Ambler Road have a phased funding structure, meaning appropriations happen year-to-year depending on which phase development is in. So far the project has spent just under $13 million, though the cost for preliminary work could get up to $60 million before ground is broken.