Delegation: Zinke issues first permit for King Cove Road

Photo of King Cove, Alaska from the air.
King Cove, Alaska

After years of begging the Obama Administration to allow a road to be built from King Cove to the Cold Bay airport, the people of King Cove are rejoicing that the Trump Administration has acted so quickly to order a survey that will determine options for a route through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, which separates the communities.

The U.S. Department of Interior last week issued a survey permit to the Alaska Department of Transportation.

The city of King Cove, its tribes, Native corporation and borough support the road to the airport. The community has fought for a road for the past 35 years.

Ceremonial wear adorns musicians in King Cove, Alaska.

King Cove is located on the south side of the Alaska Peninsula. It lies on a sand spit along Deer Passage and Deer Island, and is nestled between two volcanoes some 18 miles south of Cold Bay and 625 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The community’s 3,360-foot gravel runway is buffeted by gale-force crosswinds, which make it unusable much of the time. A ferry operates occasionally between May and October, but for those who need immediate medical attention, the all-weather airport at Cold Bay is the only option — and a road to that airport was denied to the community by the previous administration. The road has been a priority of Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan as well as Congressman Don Young.

A state and federal land exchange that was in the works was frozen in 2013 by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who famously told the people of King Cove that someone had to stand up for the birds.

This week marked the three and a half year anniversary since Jewell rejected the road. Today, residents are hopeful.

“Unlike Secretary Jewell, we believe President-elect Donald Trump and Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke value human lives as well as birds,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack in December. “We are confident they will take action because they understand that the lives of King Cove residents matter.”

Last year there were 17 medevacs from the community: three conducted by the Coast Guard and 14 were non-Coast Guard. Included among the over 60 medevacs that occurred since Secretary Jewell rejected the road were:

  • A King Cove woman in her 70s who broke her hip and had to wait for 40 hours for the weather to improve enough to be medevaced from King Cove to Anchorage.
  • A woman in her 70s suffered from heart issues was medevaced from King Cove to Cold Bay by the Coast Guard after high winds prevented Guardian Flight from landing. She was medevaced to Anchorage more than seven hours later.
  • A woman in her 20s was treated at the King Cove Clinic for a severely obstructed airway. Due to fog and low visibility, Guardian Flight was unable to land in King Cove. The patient was stabilized and a Coast Guard helicopter from a cutter in the Bering Sea was dispatched, arriving 7 ½ hours later. The patient was transported to Cold Bay and transferred to Guardian Flight bound for Anchorage.
  • A four-week-old infant suffering from respiratory distress was medevaced by the Coast Guard during a blizzard. The baby was transported to an Anchorage hospital.

Three years ago, 2014, King Cove tribes, the corporation, the city and the Aleutians East Borough (the King Cove Group) sued Secretary Jewell and other federal officials over the rejection of the road. In 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Holland ruled against King Cove and determined there was no violation of the National Environmental Policy Act or of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act. That case is under appeal.

Last July, Murkowski, Sullivan and  Young introduced identical bills (S. 3204 and H.R. 5777) in Congress mandating an equal value land transfer in exchange for construction of a short, single-lane, non-commercial road.

In January of this year, Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan introduced a bill that would authorize a land exchange to allow  construction through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

“After years of secretarial apathy,” Murkowski said in January, referring to former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, “I am eager to work with a new administration and a new Interior Secretary to restore common sense, resolve this horrible injustice, and end their needless pain and suffering.”



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