On Wednesday, the State of Alaska opposed the Department of the Interior’s motion to dismiss an appeal before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that proposes a life-saving road between King Cove and the State’s all-weather airport at Cold Bay.
Interior’s motion is based on Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s March 14 decision to withdraw from the binding land exchange agreement between Interior and the King Cove Corporation that was approved in 2019. Haaland’s decision was presented as a final and unreviewable termination of the agreement.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska said, “Secretary Haaland’s decision to halt the land swap means King Cove residents will remain at the mercy of the weather if they need lifesaving medical treatment.” He said the residents of King Cove deserve access to medical care just as much as any other American.
The remote village of King Cove, located on the Alaska Peninsula, has a population of 850 and has argued for a road across the refuge to reach an airport in Cold Bay for medical emergencies.
Opponents argue that a road will harm the refuge. King Cove Corp., a long-term partner with the State in developing a safe and reliable connection across the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, filed a motion for preliminary injunction with the 9th Circuit to prohibit Interior from taking any actions to implement Secretary Haaland’s March 14, 2023 decision.
King Cove Corp. is a village corporation under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and it intends to enforce the binding KCC-DOI agreement to finalize the land exchange. The village corporations motion for injunction asks the 9th Circuit to enjoin Interior from taking any actions under Sec. Haaland’s recent decision until after the 9th Circuit issues its decision on the pending appeal.
The State’s opposition to Haaland’s motion to dismiss requests that the 9th Circuit denies her the request and issues its decision on the pending appeal, and then remands to the district court all issues relating to Haaland’s recent decision to withdraw from the land exchange. Before Haaland threw a wrench in it, the land exchange with KCC was nearly completed, with the litigation being the only cause of delay. The only remaining task before the exchange of deeds is for Interior to complete environmental surveys of the exchange lands, which had to wait until the completion of litigation.