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Critics question estimated costs of Ambler road

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NOME, Alaska (AP) — Critics of plans to build a 220-mile road from the Dalton Highway are questioning whether the state's price tag for the project is realistic.

State officials and the company hired to oversee a road to a copper deposit in the Northwest Arctic Borough discussed likely costs last week at a meeting of the Citizens Advisory Commission on Federal Areas, KNOM-radio (http://bit.ly/1oO1biS) reported. The topic was on the agenda because of plans for the road to pass through Gates of the Arctic National Park.

Mark Davis, deputy director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, gave an overall cost prediction for the project at $190 million to $300 million.

Other AIDEA representatives said that figure likely will be revised upward when an environmental review is finished. Maryellen Tuttle of Dowl HKM, the company managing the project, said a more conservative range is $200 million to $400 million for construction. That would not include the cost of preliminary studies or permitting, which could be as high as $60 million by the time ground is broken, she said.

The owner of a wilderness lodge questioned those figures.

"The idea that the road costs $100-$300 million dollars is totally, totally fallacious," said Ron Yarnell, even for a single-lane road. Bridges, he said, will be huge.

"The bridges on this job alone are going to be $100 to $200 million dollars," he said.

AIDEA officials say the industrial road will be closed and remediated when mining ends. Jill Yordy of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center questioned who would pay for that.

"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," she said.

Davis said road reclamation costs will be calculated during the environmental review process.

The eventual financing model will use tolls to collect repayment from the road's private users, Tuttle said, and reclamation costs will be factored into tolls.

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Information from: KNOM-AM, http://www.knom.org

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