Alaska Native tribes sue Feds over Ambler Road decision

In this Aug. 1, 2014 photo provided by the National Park Service are male caribou antlers in...
In this Aug. 1, 2014 photo provided by the National Park Service are male caribou antlers in the Oolah Valley, likely the result of a grizzly kill as he migrated south for the winter at the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska. The nation's northernmost national park says its new management plan will have to consider the effects of a new industrial road to the mining district of Ambler, the first road that would be constructed within its Maryland-sized boundaries. (AP Photo/National Park Service, Cadence Cook) (KTUU)
Published: Oct. 8, 2020 at 6:28 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - This week, a half dozen individual Alaska Native tribal councils and a tribal consortium filed a lawsuit over the federal government’s authorization to build the 211-mile Ambler Road.

The project aims to connect the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District in Northwest Alaska. The state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is behind the project.

Earlier this year the Bureau of Land Management completed the final environmental review for the project. Then in July, a Joint Record of Decision green lighted the development.

The lawsuit claims that federal agencies violated multiple laws, including a portion of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that addresses impacts to subsistence use.

“It has certain provisions in there to protect subsistence needs. And there is analysis that the federal agencies are required to go through when such a development goes through and is going to impact the subsistence needs of our villages,” Natasha Singh, General Counsel for Tanana Chiefs Conference said. “We believe that that process and analysis did not adhere to ANILCA 810.”

In addition to the Tanana Chiefs Conference, other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Alatna Village Council, Allakaket Tribal Council, Evansville Tribal Council, Huslia Tribal Council, Tanana Tribal Council and Native Village of Kobuk Traditional Council.

Singh says that the input the tribes provided throughout the process was not adequately considered in the permitting process.

“A major concern is fishing, making sure fishing resources are protected. If you go into the plans of the project, it’s just basically a line on a map. There are no specifics in the plan of where the road is going to be. That means there’s no plans for bridges. There’s no plans for culverts. No plans for what that infrastructure even is going to look like and how that is potentially going to either harm or protect the fish resources,” Singh said. “And you’ll see in other states they’ve had to completely replace culverts that were actually harming the ability of fish species to spawn. We specifically raised that concern in probably every single tribal comment, and still yet there are no specific plans on how to protect fish species.”

Singh says that if the road is going to be built, the government agencies responsible for permitting should demonstrate that it will not harm subsistence resources. The plan outlined in the Record of Decision does not do that, she says.

“We’re asking the federal agencies to go back to the drawing board, follow the law they’re required to follow, and address the concerns as we laid out,” Singh said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management said the agencies stand by the environmental review used to make the decision on the project.

“During the course of this analysis, the BLM held over 35 public meetings in affected communities along the route throughout this three-year process. Our commonsense actions are lawful and based on the best available science. The Department will continue to implement President Trump’s agenda to create more American jobs, protect the safety of American workers, support domestic energy production and conserve our environment. We are confident the Courts will agree,” the statement said.

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