On wednesday the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority—or AIDEA—is holding two days of meetings in Kotzebue about a proposed 200-mile road through the interior to the Ambler Mining District.
“We’re pulling together community leadership from the stakeholders in the proposed corridor, as part of our community outreach. And we’ve had a lot of interest and are expecting really good participation,” said Karsten Rodvik, AIDEA’s head of external affairs. The agency is flying in representatives from almost all the communities along the road’s potential route from the Dalton Highway, through the Interior, and to the Kobuk Valley—all as AIDEA moves forward the federally-mandated Environmental Impact Statement for the road.
But PJ Simon, second chief for the community of Allekaket, says leadership there isn’t sending anyone, out of protest. When AIDEA held its first and only meeting in Allakaket last year, Simon remembers leaders felt the agency and other representatives did not adequately listen to local feelings about the road.
“You guys say you…are here to hear our concerns, but yet none of you even have notepads out,” Simon recalls, “and it doesn’t seem like you guys are going to listen to us.”
Local leadership in the Koyukuk region opposes the road—and has issued resolutions saying so—and that’s why Simon thinks AIDEA’s holding the meeting in Kotzebue, which isn’t along the road’s proposed route.
“They never go to Allakaket because they know we have a firm stance against the road. So we feel that we’re not getting heard. And having a meeting in Kotzebue, of all places—nothing wrong with that—but it’s away from the road. It’s not ground zero. You won’t be able to see what is affected,” he added.
Rodvik disagrees. He says Kotzebue has the facilities to hold a gathering of this size. Those facilities include conference rooms at the Nullagvik Hotel, which will also lodge many of the representatives coming to the meeting. The hotel is owned by the NANA Development Corporation; NANA, for its part, says it supports the federally mandated Environmental Impact Statement process for a potential road but hasn’t made a decision on the road itself.
Rodvik explained that AIDEA has worked hard to connect with communities as the process has advanced.
“This meeting is consistent with our community outreach,” he said. “We’ve had numerous meetings in communities and have publicized those meetings in the community and through local tribal and city councils. So, we feel that we are reaching out.”
Despite that outreach, few details about this week’s meetings were publicly available ahead of time. AIDEA has a website devoted to the Ambler Road, but nothing about the meeting or its agenda are posted there.
Rodvik says the intention is not to shut anyone out, but to make sure the conversation takes place between what he calls the most “immediate stakeholders.”
“Well there’ll be representatives from NANA and Doyan Regional Corporations, Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, National Park Service, and others. Again this is a meeting involving stakeholders—the immediate stakeholders I should say—in the proposed corridor.”
But the definition of a stakeholder isn’t so clear: while nine communities lie along the road’s proposed path, there are also business owners, wilderness advocates, and subsistence users claiming they’ll be impacted by any industrial road through the region.
Wednesday’s meetings in Kotzebue start at noon Wednesday and last through Thursday.
Editor’s Note: a version of this story appeared online that stated NANA Development Corporation “supports AIDEA’s environmental review” of the road project. The above text reflects clarifications that NANA Development Corporation supports “the Environmental Impact Statement process.”