Comment of the day: About the Ambler Road

The idea of building the 200 mile road that would connect the Ambler mining district to the Dalton Highway has been around since the 1960s. And like many projects in the state, the idea made yet another appearance when oil prices began to spike. The road would provide access to copper, zinc, lead and silver deposits that stretch for about 75 miles between the Brooks Range and the upper Kobuk River.

Gov. Bill Walker recently cut out the $8 or so million that had been allocated to AIDEA, which took over the project from DOT, to continue with the environmental impact statement application. So far, the state agency has spent about $3 million on studies, engineering and community outreach. It has about $5 million left. All told, it will need about $10 million to pay the third-party contractor to finish the EIS application, which is expected to be completed yet this year. It’s important to note, however, that as envisioned, the road, which would cost as much as $300 million, is expected to be paid for by the mining industry, much like the road leading to the Red Dog Mine. The upkeep will be paid for by mining-industry tolls.

AIDEA spokesperson Karsten Rodvik wanted to emphasize that AIDEA is looking forward to working with the governor and is awaiting his direction.

Anyway, that’s what I learned today, and that there’s a rabbit hole in the middle of that road, which I fell down today when I was trying to fact check Lynn Willis’ comment about the project, which also got him into the LNG trucking project, which I didn’t even touch. This is what Willis had to say about the two:

All the mineral wealth in the Ambler Region must get to markets. How much of this resource is bulk commodity that requires further processing? Any plans to build smelters or other facilities to concentrate the product near the Ambler Mining District? Absent some other economic benefit, why build this 200 mile Ambler Mining District Road West from the existing Dalton Highway? If after traversing the road with a truck load of ore, ore concentrate, or perhaps even finished product, you have reached is an intersection near Wiseman which is about 250 miles North of Fairbanks. By the time you reach Fairbanks haven’t you consumed all the value of your cargo in transportation costs alone and you still are 350 miles or more from a seaport. I assume very valuable commodities like Gold will have been flown to market.

Of course this is the same mentality that assumes Fairbanks can be supplied with LNG by truck over the same Dalton Highway 414 miles from the North Slope. This would require an estimated 50 tank truck trailers a day according to the State Representative I asked (I do hope he was wrong yet he thought it was a viable plan). Imagine the logistic burden of say 48 truck deliveries per day. That would require a double tank trailer delivery (2 x 24 =48) arriving in Fairbanks every hour of every day of the year over the road where they film “Ice Road Truckers”

Wouldn’t a railroad to most economically move bulk product directly to a port location make more sense? Same could be said about using rail to transport LNG from Cook Inlet.

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