KNBA - KBC

Doyon Limited rebukes AIDEA for fast-tracking Ambler Road

Apr 14, 2020

A map of the proposed Ambler Road project. (Graphic courtesy of HDR Engineering or the Bureau of Land Management)

Doyon Limited sent letter chastising the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority about the Ambler Road project for not completing right-of-way agreements with the Native corporation to cross its land near Evansville.

The letter is largely a response to AIDEA’s fast-tracking of the controversial mining road. At an emergency board meeting on March 27, the management corporation moved $35,000,000 from its general fund into the road’s development fund, the Arctic Infrastructure Development Fund.

AIDEA called that meeting to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The resolution moving the money to the Ambler Road project was ostensibly to create jobs replacing those lost in the pandemic, even as early as this summer. The resolution overshadowed other COVID-19 mitigation measures passed by AIDEA's board that day, like loan policies for Alaska businesses.

The April 7 letter was signed by Doyon Limited CEO Aaron Schutt.

“We find it equally troubling that AIDEA invoked the Coronavirus pandemic to justify funding this unauthorized road on an emergency basis.  …  we hope AIDEA is not using this public health tragedy to pressure Doyon or other landowners into granting Rights of Way — particularly after AIDEA failed for years to engage with Doyon.”

The proposed 211-mile-long gravel road will peel off the Dalton Highway at about milepost 161 and head west, skirting the southern Brooks Range. It would access the large, copper, gold, zinc and rare-earth mineral belt known as the Ambler Mining District. It would mostly cross state land (61 percent). But conservation groups are concerned about it crossing 26 miles of Gates of the Arctic National Preserve and the Kobuk Wild River; about 24 percent of the road would cross federal land managed by the BLM and the National Park Service. About 15 prcent would cross Native corporation lands.

An Environmental Impact Statement was completed last month, but the formal Record of Decision has not been issued yet.

In spite of economic promise, many villages in the area have passed formal resolutions against the road. NANA Regional Corporation, which also has land the road will cross, and Doyon have remained neutral.

Doyon’s letter highlights land near the village of Evansville. It says AIDEA shouldn’t imply there would be road-building jobs as early as this summer, because Doyon, the Park Service and have not given rights-of-way.

"We feel it necessary to remind AIDEA that you have no deal with Doyon, Limited for the portion of the road AIDEA proposes to cross Doyon lands near Evansville.  AIDEA has never even presented a written proposal to Doyon for such access, much less a written proposal or detailed information regarding the ROW. As such, AIDEA and its contractors do not have permission to enter or cross Doyon lands to conduct any field work in the summer of 2020, or at any time."

In an email reply, Tom Boutin, AIDEA’s Executive Director wrote:

“I have talked with CEO Schutt in his office about Ambler ROW matters. During the period leading to the BLM release of the EIS on 3/27 AIDEA has had frequent communication with Doyon Limited.”

Doyon is still asking for a written proposal, including appropriate maps and engineering files. Boutin was preparing for another board meeting yesterday and was not able to give a longer response. He referred further questions to AIDEA’s press office.