In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) into law. Commonly referred to as “The Great Compromise,” ANILCA sought to balance the state’s natural resource-based economy with environmental protection and preserve Alaskans’ unique ways of life.
ANILCA established 10 new federal parks, preserves, and monuments throughout Alaska while guaranteeing certain rights of access for subsistence, hunting, fishing, recreation, and other economic and social purposes. Access to and from the Ambler Mining District for resource development is guaranteed in Section 201(4) of ANILCA.
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 Ambler Mining District. Access to the District was assessed for both east and west alignments. As a result of these studies, a potential corridor was identified that would connect the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District crossing the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve.
In 2013, the project was transferred from DOT&PF to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), a public corporation of the State of Alaska. AIDEA’s purpose is to promote, develop and advance the general prosperity and economic welfare of the people of Alaska.
AIDEA undertook the project with the goal of forming a public-private partnership to finance, construct, operate and maintain the controlled industrial access road. The project approach is modeled on AIDEA’s successful DeLong Mountain Transportation System (DMTS), which includes a 52-mile industrial access road from the Red Dog Mine to the DMTS shallow-water 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.
In March 2020, the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Ambler Road. A few months later in July, the BLM and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) issued the Joint Record of Decision (JROD) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Throughout 2021, the Ambler Access Project made significant progress achieving multiple land access milestones, including rights-of-way (ROW) between AIDEA, the National Park Service (NPS), and BLM as well as an AIDEA-Doyon land access agreement and an AIDEA-NANA land access permit. The agreement and permit with Doyon and NANA, respectively, are effective until December 31, 2024. Note that these are not ROW agreements. Project resources were added to advance the project through Final Feasibility and Permitting, including a dedicated program manager, external communications manager, and a team of contractors to complete nine critical scopes of work. In October 2021, the Northwest Arctic Borough Assembly passed a resolution in support of the Ambler Access Project.