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OPINION: If Ambler road is built, say farewell to the Upper Kobuk

February 9th 7:09 pm | By JOHN BANIA Print this article   Email this article  

I do not permanently live in the Northwest Arctic any longer, but still visit it frequently to carry on old friendships and enjoy the land and rivers that are forever a part of me. A good portion of that land and many of the rivers are about to meet their demise. The people who have been in that region for eons, whom I have enjoyed for 34 years, are about to be sent to what will seem like another planet. If the so-called "Ambler Road" is approved and built, you can say good-by to the wild and free area it will pass through and to a way of life. More of Alaska will lose its freedom and become subject to the outside world.

Presenting this project as a road is a sham. It sounds similar to a bait and switch. Those bureaucratic entities that control the outcome of this project concentrate your thinking on the road. They make it seem like there will be one road.

Look at the map on the BLM website. You see all those little letter X's that represent mineral deposits. Spur roads from the main road will be built to all of them over time. There will not be one road but many. It is said that the road will not be open to the public. Everybody knows that after some time, it will be. You think the western arctic caribou herd is depleted from its peak numbers of not too many years ago? Wait. Its migration path will change and numbers will further decline, not to mention the increase in hunting pressure that will occur.

Carefully look at the Bureau of Land Management map. Bridges will be constructed over the major tributaries flowing from the north into the Kobuk River. As an aside, you have to know that I was fortunate enough to live in Buckland, Deering, Noatak, Shungnak and Kotzebue for a length of time and Kiana for a short period of time, almost 18 years total. I have traveled all the major rivers in the Northwest Arctic extensively and the main tributaries of the upper Kobuk to reaches that not many have gone to by small jet boat.

That means the Reed River, Beaver Creek, Pah River, Maniilaq River, Kogoluktuk and Shungnak River, not to mention many smaller tributaries flowing in from the tundra. Major bridges are to be built over the Reed River, Beaver Creek, Maniilaq River, Kogoluktuk River and Shungnak River. There will be untold numbers of smaller creek crossing bridges also. The water in these rivers, after runoff is over, is as clear as the air. The Reed River rarely sees any traffic and the scenery is spectacular. The Maniilaq River is swift and a challenge once you get into the mountains. The Kogoluktuk River is a bit rocky in places and has great waterfalls. All of these rivers have a regular spawning population of fish. All of them have great fishing holes at their mouths. Then there is the Kobuk River itself, loaded with fish — salmon, sheefish and whitefish. It has sustained people for ages.

When acid runoff from any of the mines eventually flows into it, there will be a catastrophe. Read the report done by Ann Rothe of Halcyon Research. You can find it on the KOTZ website. The worldwide environmental stewardship of a number of mining companies is outlined. It is dismal. Whole river systems have been destroyed.

At some, if not all, mine sites, major construction will take place. Buildings serving a variety of functions will seemingly grow out of the ground. Landing strips will appear. Machinery and generators will growl 24 hours a day. Yes, there will be jobs. The good, better and best of them will go to outsiders who have the training. Some funds will flow into a variety of Northwest Arctic coffers, but the ordinary subsistence-loving resident probably will not benefit. Their world will be torn asunder.

The land, like the rivers, will suffer too. There will be dust. There will be pollutants released into the air, ground water and soil. There will be noise in the wilderness. Acid mine drainage is, perhaps, the worst of all. I witnessed it first-hand in Montana where some creeks still flow orange after mining has been stopped for decades.

People in Alaska are up in arms over the Pebble Mine. The proposed mining in the Northwest Arctic on the scale that will occur is just as bad, if not worse. However, it is not greatly publicized. It will not only affect fish, animals, the land and water, it will forever change the way of life for people who choose to live in the remote villages that will be affected. First, part of their ancestral land where the mineral deposits are located was taken over by the state. At least people could still utilize it at that point. Now the mining companies will render it unusable.

The following question keeps going through my mind: If these villages were populated by nonnative people instead of Native people and the people did not want this mining to occur, would it happen?

The mining companies involved, as far as I can ascertain, are foreign companies. Much, if not most, of the minerals extracted could go to foreign countries. This means we will allow a pristine section of Alaska and a way of life to be destroyed so shareholders of foreign companies and other foreign entities can profit.

There are a number of designated wilderness areas in the United States. Due to this designation, these areas often see a steady amount of human traffic. There are some areas, like the upper Kobuk, that are not officially wilderness areas, but in reality are wilderness areas and receive limited visitation and have remained pristine due to their lack of any special recognition.

Finally, what will occur here is more habitat fragmentation in Alaska, a drastic change caused by humans that will forever affect the flora and fauna of the region. As it continues, Alaska will not be Alaska anymore. It will be a lost last frontier divided up into sections by gravel roads. In a way, it will be balkanized.

This is all about money and money usually wins. I am sorry to say that I feel it is a done deal. Sure, meetings and teleconferences have been held to hear what the common folks have to say. The federal government types come with their bags, computers, microphones and their educated and polite voices and they act like they are listening. Are they really? Or has the influence from the mining companies and the state government influenced them so the decision is already made? Reading between the lines from people I have spoken to leads me to believe there is no stopping it. The Kobuk River may be in the beginning stage of a long lingering death.

I want to be wrong and will be overjoyed if I am.


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