Cash-strapped Ambler Road project gets boost from AIDEA to complete permitting

(Image via KOTZ)

The state’s investment arm is pumping $718,000 more into a cash-strapped project designed to open up mineral exploration in Northwest Alaska. 

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s board approved additional funding for the proposed Ambler Road on Wednesday. The project would stretch from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District northeast of Kotzebue and cross Gates of the Arctic National Park. 

Critics say there are environmental concerns over routing through a national park. Others are concerned with impacts to federal subsistence rights. 

AIDEA President Tom Boutin says the cash infusion will help it complete federal permitting. The Bureau of Land Management is completing an environmental impact statement. 

After that, he says, engineering and construction costs will be easier to predict. 

“Those numbers are a lot more easily defined going forward than what was the case through the EIS process,” Boutin said.

The state has spent about $26 million on the Ambler Road project over the past decade. But the Anchorage Daily News reports the project had less than $33,000 dollars left in reserves before this week. The recently approved funding comes from AIDEA, which is separate from the state’s general fund.

Boutin told AIDEA’s board of directors to anticipate spending between $25 and $50 million before construction and another $350 million to build the 200 miles of road. 

Boutin says the process for the Ambler Road has taken a long time to come to fruition, but he says the state’s financing of the project is modeled on Red Dog, a zinc and lead mine 81 miles north of Kotzebue. 

“What occurred with the Red Dog financing and construction and subsequent mineral development pioneered what has happened up to now,” Boutin said.

BLM is accepting public comments on the draft EIS through Tuesday, Oct. 29.