ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The largest private landowner in Alaska has criticized a state agency for using an emergency meeting intended to discuss the coronavirus to set aside $35 million for a mining road in northwest Alaska.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority approved funding for the proposed 200-mile (320-kilometer) industrial road, which would stretch from Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District northeast of Kotzebue and cross Gates of the Arctic National Park to access an undeveloped copper-zinc mineral belt, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.
Alaska Native corporation Doyon Limited finds it “troubling that AIDEA invoked the coronavirus pandemic to justify funding this unauthorized road on an emergency basis,” company President Aaron Schutt said in a letter to the state agency. “We sincerely hope that AIDEA did not intentionally raise Alaskans’ hopes for jobs that it cannot currently deliver.”
Board member Al Fogle previously said the money would immediately create up to 200 jobs that otherwise would have gone to waste and been postponed to 2021, but Schutt argued the promise of jobs is misleading because Doyon and other landowners have not granted the agency a right-of-way for the project and never received a proposal for access.
“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,” Schutt said, adding that he hopes the agency is not using the pandemic to pressure agencies into granting access.
Doyen owns more than 19,500 square miles (50,500 square kilometers) near Evansville where a portion of the road is expected to cross, but the lack of right-of-way approval could stall any work on the road, Schutt said.
“This transfer of funds is directly aligned with AIDEA’s statutory directions and the authority given AIDEA by the Alaska Legislature over the decades,” said Karsten Rodvik, a spokesman for the agency.
The agency is “committed to working with all stakeholders” to advance the project responsibly and create economic development and jobs, Rodvik said.
Environmental groups have criticized the cost of the project and raised concerns over its route through a national park, while others have said the project could affect federal subsistence rights.