Five Interior villages have joined Fairbanks-based tribal consortium Tanana Chiefs Conference in suing three federal agencies over what they say was a “rushed, flawed and premature” permitting process for the controversial road to access the Ambler Mining District.
The Bureau of Land Management — one of the three agencies who are subject to the lawsuit along with the National Park Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — issued its 320-page record of decision on the project in June, outlining the plan to construct a 211-mile road that would connect the Ambler Mining District in Northwest Alaska with the Dalton Highway and Fairbanks.
On Wednesday, the villages of Alatna, Allakaket, Evansville, Huslia and the Native Village of Tanana joined TCC in filing suit with the Federal District Court of Alaska that seeks to reject the final EIS released earlier this year.
TCC Director and Head Chief Victor Joseph noted in a statement issued Wednesday that the agencies involved in the permitting process provided little information to residents of the region who will be affected by the road.
“The decision whether to construct the Ambler road has huge implications for the people in the region as it could lead to multiple mining projects in the area which could harm the health of the people and wildlife resources, and potentially open the entire country to easy access from the road system,” Joseph said. “The concerns about these issues were not addressed by any of the government entities involved in the decision to approve the road.”
A portion of the proposed road would travel through the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, a route that Congress sanctioned in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 but has conservationists and advocates of subsistence lifestyles worried.
Harding Sam, chief of the village of Alatna, noted in a statement following the filing Wednesday that part of ANILCA also calls for input to be sought from villages and communities who may be affected by the road.
“In a rush to get this decision done, the consultation processes of the government entities involved in the decision were not meaningful. Congress put into law the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Protection Act, to require the government to consider local community input with specific standards-those laws have been violated in the issuance of the final evaluation for the Ambler Road Project,” Sam said.
The road is expected to cost $500 million, a price tag that is sparked criticism from some who say the risks and initial costs may outweigh the projected revenues.
It remains unclear how AIDEA plans to construct the road, as the organization still lacks the authority to build portions of the road through land owned by Interior Alaska Native corporation Doyon, Limited. Doyon outlined its grievances with AIDEA’s handling of the planning process in a letter issued in early April.
About a quarter of the proposed road would cross federal lands, access to which the Bureau of Land Management approved in its Thursday decision. Other portions of the road, however, cross Alaska Native, state or privately owned land — access which Doyon noted that AIDEA has not secured.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.