NOME, Alaska (AP) — State development officials planned to be in Kotzebue on Wednesday for discussions on a road that would stretch 220 miles from the Dalton Highway west to a copper deposit in the Northwest Arctic Borough.
The Alaska Legislature appropriated $8.5 million to study the environmental effects of the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Road. The Alaska Industrial Development and Exporting Authority is starting work on the permit process, KNOM (http://is.gd/T83Kpl) reported.
AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik said state law requires community support for AIDEA projects.
"We continue to work on the permit application process and are continually focused on a very active community involvement program," Rodvik said. "We're getting dates set in June for the Upper Kobuk communities and then throughout the summer we're looking at establishing meeting dates for communities on the Koyukuk River."
The proposed road would begin near Evansville. It would pass through Gates of the Arctic National Preserve and end in a remote area near three Upper Kobuk Valley communities.
The target is a copper deposit explored by NovaCopper. President and CEO Ric van Nieuwenhuyse told the Resource Development Council in April that the company had identified nearly 10 billion pounds of copper.
"That's a major mine," he said. "So we don't have a mine yet but we certainly are getting something that has the size and potential to be a major mine."
Development depends on the road access, he said.
"But, you won't have a mining district without out road to it. So, that's where AIDEA steps in," Nieuwenhuyse said.
The road would require 15 long bridges over waterways in remote wilderness. Support has not been universal.
John Gaedeke, owner of a wilderness lodge near the proposed road, has collected more than 1,600 signatures online in opposition to the road. He heads the Brooks Range Council, a group of business owners who say state officials have not been upfront with people who will be most affected.
"The agencies have not connected (with) me at all, even though the road would pass within about 8 miles of my family's business," Gaedeke said. "So, huge impact to the area the lodge is in and the state has made no attempt to contact businesses affected in the area. That I've seen."
AIDEA and NovaCopper cite local support from NANA Regional Corp., the Alaska Native regional corporation for northwest Alaska, which owns the Red Dog zinc mine 90 miles from Kotzebue.
Gaedeke says NANA doesn't speak for him. John Horner and others on the Kobuk Traditional Council have rejected the road.
"We felt that they weren't giving us much information to begin with," Horner said in March. "As far as I am concerned, the Native Village of Kobuk is opposing the road."
Kobuk's opposition is tied to residents' subsistence needs and the fear that a road will disrupt migration of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd.
The Tanana Chiefs Conference, representing 42 Interior communities, formally opposed the project after all six communities along the proposed route drafted statements against the plan.
Information from: KNOM-AM, http://www.knom.org