Northwest Arctic leaders urge Ambler Metals to focus on local hire for future mining

Drilling at the Trilogy Metals Inc. copper-rich Arctic polymetallic deposit in Alaska’s Ambler Mining District. (Photo courtesy of Trilogy Metals Inc.)

Ambler Metals is a company dedicated to the development of the copper-rich Ambler Mining District in Northwest Alaska. But it can’t move forward without the blessing of NANA Regional Native Corporation and permits from local governments.

Ambler Metals is a joint effort formed by two multinational corporations: Trilogy Metals and South32. President and CEO Ramzi Fawaz started at the beginning of September, relocating to Anchorage from Colorado. During a Northwest Arctic Borough Assembly meeting, Fawaz highlighted his hopes for the Northwest Arctic region.

“A lot of opportunities for us to work together and to invest in the region in Alaska and make something wonderful and profitable and sustainable for the long duration,” Fawaz said.

The company’s plans for resource development in the region are still several years away. Most of the work right now is in preliminary surveys and drilling. Trilogy CEO Tony Giardini says getting approval from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority on the controversial Ambler Road project is the first major step in the region.

“We’re working with them right now to sign a memorandum of understanding to effectively start the finely detailed engineering of the road,” Giardini said.

Environmentalists have criticized the 211-mile private road, which would cut through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Subsistence hunting advocates are also concerned with potential effects to caribou migration in the region.

However, regional leaders are also concerned over another topic — jobs.

For these multinational companies to come in and extract resources from their lands, local officials want to ensure that their communities — which are overwhelmingly made up of Inupiaq people — have employment options.

“You’re going into the region to the land where people own,” said assembly member Walter Sampson. “And we expect companies to make sure that they take their word to make sure that regional employees are the number one in this region to be hired.”

Sampson says that is a similar model to how Teck, the operators of the Red Dog Mine, said that they would hire employees for their mine. The mine is the largest producer of zinc in the world.

“Red Dog said 100% 30 years ago,” Sampson said. “They’re still at 55-60% today.”

Fawaz with Ambler Metals says the company has worked with local hires for the preliminary work, and he hopes to increase that amount as the project gets rolling.

“I would love that,” Fawaz said. “And we will try our utmost in allowing opportunities in the region to apply for the jobs once we start creating them.”

Hannah Paniyavluk Loon echoed Sampson’s sentiments. She expressed concern that Ambler Metals only has offices in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and pushed for a more local presence to keep with regional and cultural ties.

“I believe that in doing so, you may need to have an office up in the Kobuk region or in Kotzebue where you could train and recruit local hire,” Loon said.

Loon and other assembly members say doing work in advance could help guide the region’s youngest to careers in the mining district.

Fawaz agreed with the need for community engagement, though he didn’t make any promises about a permanent presence in Kotzebue or any other local community.