Trump Administration Supports Alaskan Infrastructure Development to Mine Critical Minerals

Alaska’s Ambler “Road to Resources” will support high paying local jobs, economic opportunities and exploration for critical minerals

Last edited 09/29/2021

Date: Thursday, July 23, 2020

WASHINGTON – In an important step toward providing access to the world class and strategically important Ambler Mining District in Northwest Alaska, the Department of the Interior has issued two decisions that authorize a right-of-way for a state of Alaska mining service road across Federally-managed lands. In support of the Trump Administration’s priorities to further critical mineral exploration and facilitate resource development, these decisions, prepared by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the National Park Service (NPS) with the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), approve the route for the proposed 211 mile long road, from Milepost 161 on the existing Dalton Highway to the south bank of the Ambler River. 

“President Trump has long recognized why investments in infrastructure are vital to meet the urgent need for critical minerals,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond. “The Trump Administration’s success today is a game changer for our nation’s ability to secure American prosperity and national security.”

“This action fulfills the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act promise made forty years ago that creation of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve would not block access to this minerals resource,” said Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Robert Wallace. “Congress mandated access across the Kobuk Preserve and this action delivers on that direction in a way that mitigates impacts on important Preserve resources.”

The best-known carbonate-hosted copper deposit in Alaska is located in Bornite, also known as Ruby Creek, in the Ambler Mining District along the southern slopes of the Brooks Range. While renowned for its high copper grades, Bornite also hosts significant quantities of cobalt and potentially other critical minerals. The proposed Ambler Road will provide the access necessary for the development and production of these critical minerals to further the national security interests of the United States. 

“Federal approval of the Ambler Road is both timely and significant for Alaska’s future,” said U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK). “This project will provide the access needed to responsibly develop a number of high-grade mineral deposits, hopefully leading to greater production of copper, cobalt, zinc, silver, gold, and other metals. That will, in turn, mean good jobs for Alaskans and revenues for our state. I appreciate BLM’s years of work to complete federal permitting for this project, but not all work on it is finished. As the project moves forward, I encourage the developer to fully engage with local landowners to reach agreement on necessary rights-of-way and to coordinate with local communities to avoid impacts so this project can become a reality.”

“The prospect of hundreds of good-paying jobs, from the Ambler road and resulting projects, in Northwest Alaska is good news for the incredible, hardworking Alaskans who live in this region,” said U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (AK). “As I’ve consistently said, the proposed infrastructure and projects have to be done right, with due consideration for preserving the environment and with input from the communities in the area. I am appreciative of the Department of Interior’s close consultation with Alaskans and community leaders over many months and years, and the hard work and consideration that led to this historic decision.”

“Minerals are critical to countless items we use every day. From computers and batteries, to building materials and other consumer products, we must ensure that Alaska is leading the way in responsible mining,” said U.S. Representative Don Young (AK-At large). “I am proud that the Ambler Road project is making great progress, and I look forward to seeing the positive economic impacts that will come from its construction. I encourage the developer to engage and collaborate with communities in the area to ensure that the construction of this road goes smoothly and is finished in a timely manner. I am grateful to everyone at BLM whose hard work has helped facilitate the federal permitting process, and I will continue working to ensure Alaska’s miners have the infrastructure needed to succeed.”

Along its route, 26 miles of the road will pass through the Gates of the Arctic National Park Kobuk Preserve and the easternmost 25 miles of the road cross BLM land. The proposed road would primarily cross state lands, in addition to Alaska Native corporation lands and Federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the National Park Service (NPS).

The Record of Decision by the BLM and USACE selects an alternative that is the most direct route from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District. The selected route is the environmentally preferred alternative, having the smallest footprint at just under 4,500 acres, having the least impact on wetlands and spanning the shortest distance from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District. The Final Environmental Impact Statement published March 27, 2020, included a suite of mitigation measures that are adopted in the Record of Decision and will be included in the subsequent right-of-way permit.

The Record of Decision by the Departments of the Interior and Transportation prepared through the NPS and FHWA is issued under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) which requires the Secretaries of the Interior and Transportation to evaluate access routes and a road right-of-way through the Gates of the Arctic National Park Kobuk Preserve in an Environmental and Economic Analysis (EEA) and determine the most economically feasible and prudent route with the least impact allowing for construction, operation, maintenance and reclamation of a private, industrial-access road within the Preserve. The EEA and decision include mitigation measures to protect wetlands, fish, wildlife and their habitat as well as subsistence hunting and fishing activities, and the route selected across the Kobuk Preserve follows the route selected by the USACE and BLM.

The state of Alaska began to identify and evaluate overland routes in 2009 and assigned the project to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) in 2013. Access to the road will be controlled, without public access and primarily limited to mining-related industrial uses.

“Nearly 40 years after Congress guaranteed access to the Ambler Mining District, today’s decision allows AIDEA to move forward with the planning of a project that could create thousands of Alaskan jobs and a new source of revenue for the benefit all Alaskans,” said Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy. “I thank President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt for recognizing the importance of domestically sourcing the minerals needed to power our nation’s renewable energy revolution.”

AIDEA estimates the creation of an annual average of 766 jobs (direct, indirect and induced) during road construction and up to 141 full-time jobs over the lifespan of the road. They also expect many positive impacts to flow from the road’s construction, including:

  • The development of a major mining district partially owned by NANA, an Alaska Native Corporation, that will create over 65,000 jobs, generating over $5 billion in wages, and over $1.3 billion in local and state revenues over the life of the mines;
  • Additional access that could be used for emergency response and fiber optic infrastructure improving telecommunications in remote communities; and
  • Lower costs for fuel and other community goods and services as needed supplies are trucked into roadside staging areas rather than flown in or delivered by barge.

The Final NPS/FHWA EEA and Record of Decision is available here.

The Final BLM/USACE EIS is available here.

The BLM/USACE Record of Decision is available here.


In 1980, Congress passed the ANILCA, recognizing the mineral potential in the Ambler Mining District (District) and the need for transportation access. AIDEA is pursuing construction of an industrial access road consistent with its mission to increase job opportunities and encourage Alaska’s economic growth, including development of natural resources. Specifically, AIDEA’s purpose for this project is to support mineral resource exploration and development in the Ambler Mining District. The road would provide surface transportation access to the District and allow for expanded exploration, mine development, and mine operations at mineral prospects throughout the District.

President Trump’s Executive Order 13817, issued on December 20, 2017, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals, establishes as Federal policy the need to identify new sources of critical minerals and take measures for their development.  In response, the USGS prepared a critical minerals list, “Final List of Critical Mineral 2018”, and the Department of Commerce prepared a strategic plan, “A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals.”  Increasing access to allow for the exploration and development of critical minerals is an important goal of that plan. 

As part of its critical minerals and metals investigation, U.S. Geological Survey looked at carbonate-hosted copper deposits, which often also host the critical minerals cobalt, germanium and gallium.  Cobalt is an important ingredient of super-alloys used to make aircraft turbine engines. This application makes up nearly half of the United States consumption of this critical mineral. 

Germanium and gallium have properties that make them important minerals in a number of modern applications including solar cells, infrared optics, LEDs, semiconductors and smartphones. 

Substantial public benefits also are expected to result from the Project:

  • The road would provide much-needed, high-paying jobs for construction (approximately 6 years) and operation (approximately 50 years). The majority of jobs are expected to be held by Alaskans. Specific numbers of jobs are detailed in the Socioeconomics section of the EEA.
  • The project is expected to induce greater exploration within the District and to result in development of multiple mines. Exploration and development would be indirect and cumulative effects of the project and would result in many more jobs for initial development and for on-going operations (approximately 50 years). Specific numbers of jobs are detailed in BLM EIS Appendix H, Section 3.5.5, Socioeconomics.
  • The state of Alaska, Northwest Arctic Borough and ANCSA Native corporation landowners would be expected to accrue substantial taxes, fees, mineral royalties, payments in lieu of taxes, job training and other economic benefits to the state’s General Fund and to the people of region and of the state as a whole.
  • Communities nearest to the road, particularly Kobuk, Shungnak and Ambler near the western end and Bettles and Evansville nearer to the eastern end, will have the opportunity to connect to the project’s fiber optic cable and to benefit from greater internet bandwidth and speed, allowing greater participation in e-commerce, telemedicine and general communications. Similarly, the same communities and area residents/landowners near the road will have the opportunity to take commercial deliveries via the road, with likely substantial improvements in the cost of living (lower fuel and grocery prices). See BLM EIS Appendix H, particularly Section 2.2, Indirect Road Access Scenarios, and Section 3.5.5, Socioeconomics.
  • Society as a whole is expected to benefit from the copper and other metals, including zinc, lead, gold and silver, to which the road would provide access.

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