The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed a decision by a federal judge who had rejected a deal made during the Trump Administration that would allow a road to King Cove from the Cold Bay Airport.
The road would need to traverse a small portion of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, and is designed as a one-lane gravel road to allow King Cove residents limited access to an airport that would allow life-saving medical transportation. Several environmental groups have sued to stop the road from being built.
The Ninth Circuit held that the former Secretary of Interior’s interpretation of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act’s purposes was correct. Congress gave the Secretary discretion balance the needs of humans and the environment.
The court held that Secretary David Bernhardt, who has since been replaced by Secretary Deb Haaland, exercised that discretion appropriately when he found that, without a road, the human health needs of the people of King Cove were disadvantaged.
The court also noted that Sedwick’s reading of ANILCA was contrary to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Sturgeon v. Frost, and concluded that the Bernhardt had properly considered economic and social needs of Alaskans against the other statutory purposes in weighing the land-exchange agreement. In the Sturgeon ruling, the Supreme Court sided with hunter John Sturgeon in his claim that navigable waters of Alaska are state-controlled, not federally controlled.
The Biden Administration joined with Native corporations and the State of Alaska in seeking the reversal of the district court’s ruling.