Doyon Ltd. drops support for Ambler Road, at least temporarily

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( A 200-mile road project would connect Ambler Metals’ proposed copper mine to the Dalton Highway. Alaska Division of Mining, Land and Water map)

(James Brooks/Alaska Beacon) – A key landowner in the path of the proposed Ambler Road in Northwest Alaska has said it will no longer support development of the road to mine sites.

In an Oct. 17 letter to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the CEO of Doyon Ltd. said it will not renew a land-use agreement once it expires in April.

Doyon, the regional Native corporation for Interior Alaska and Alaska’s largest private landowner, owns 10-12 miles of the two primary planned routes for the 211-mile Ambler Road, which is intended to connect the Dalton Highway with a belt of mine sites.

AIDEA, Alaska’s state-owned development bank, has been seeking Doyon’s permission to use its land for both the highway and for gravel pits needed to construct the highway, but in last week’s letter, CEO Aaron Schutt said that the corporation has received “poor treatment” from AIDEA as it seeks “to ensure that the impacts of the project or the mining district are mitigated by benefits to our corporation and its shareholders.”

A Doyon spokesperson did not respond to messages seeking comment on the decision, which appears to be at least partially the result of a separate dispute between the Native corporation and AIDEA.

On Sept. 18, Doyon sued AIDEA over $2 million in outstanding debts related to the Mustang Project, an authority-funded effort to develop an oil field on the North Slope.

AIDEA is attempting to sell the troubled project, but Doyon believes its financial concerns must be resolved.

“To be clear,” Schutt wrote on Oct. 17, “we view AIDEA’s actions related to Mustang Pad to be in bad faith and that those actions have significantly damaged the relationship with Doyon. Until our relationship is rehabilitated, we will not consider granting access to our lands.”

In an emailed statement, AIDEA spokesperson Josie Wilson said, “It is unfortunate and frankly unfair that Doyon is tying issues not involving the Ambler Road to its support for the Ambler Road. AIDEA will remain focused on advancing the project and working directly with communities and Tribes closest to the project to mitigate impacts and maximize benefits.”

Even if the dispute with Doyon is resolved favorably, AIDEA still needs to obtain federal approval for the project. A Bureau of Land Management analysis released earlier this month found that the road would have larger social and environmental impacts than previously thought, making federal approval more questionable. 

AIDEA’s board is scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the budget for the next year of development.