Will Interior Secretary Haaland see more than ducks and eel grass at King Cove? - Must Read Alaska
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Tuesday, September 28, 2021
HomeAnchorage Daily PlanetWill Interior Secretary Haaland see more than ducks and eel grass at King Cove?

Will Interior Secretary Haaland see more than ducks and eel grass at King Cove?

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ANCHORAGE DAILY PLANET

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is slated to visit with residents of King Cove during a visit to Alaska in September.

During her confirmation meetings, she reportedly promised U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan she would meet with villagers to talk about a short, one-lane gravel road skirting the edge of the 330,000-acre Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to reach Cold Bay’s all-weather airport for medical evacuations in inclimate weather.

Haaland’s department over the years, and under different administrations, generally opposed the road between the communities. When Interior, under President Donald Trump, approved a land swap that would allow the road to be built, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick rejected the deal. Trump’s administration appealed and Biden’s Department of Justice has filed a legal brief in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals defending the exchange.

The Aleut fishing village of about 950 has fought for decades to get such a road to the Cold Bay all-weather runway for medical evacuations in poor weather, but without success. The roadway would be routed along the edge of the 330,000-acre Izembek refuge. Environmental groups claim such a road would endanger migratory birds and eel grass they feed on – despite there already being more than 40 miles of roads in the refuge used by hunters.

The 11-mile stretch would complete a 30-mile road that would provide a reliable ground link to Cold Bay’s all-weather runway when the area’s notoriously fierce weather grounds small planes.

King Cove is the poster village for the disconnect between Alaska and those who value a duck more than a human life. It is emblematic of forgotten federal trust responsibilities for Native Alaskans. Environmental interests fear allowing such a road would set precedent and pave the way for bars and convenience stores in refuges across the nation. That somebody surely will die at King Cove someday trying to reach medical help without the road is of little consequence to them.

King Cove is a tiny pin hole in a very large map, a wind-blown fishing village in the Aleutians East Borough. Located on the Pacific Ocean side of the Alaska Peninsula, out near its end, it is about 600 miles southwest of Anchorage and hard against the Izembek refuge.

Residents have been trying to get a road built since before the refuge was designated mostly as wilderness by the Alaska National Interest Lands Act in 1980. Unsurprisingly, they say, nobody bothered to tell villagers there would be a wildlife refuge nearby, or that it would contain wilderness or affect construction of a road to Cold Bay.

Ferocious weather grounds or delays King Cove’s aircraft about half the time. Eleven people have died in unsuccessful medical evacuations and other plane trips in and out of King Cove over the past four decades. The worst accident was in 1981, when a medevac crash killed all four aboard. Trying to reach Cold Bay by boat in bad weather is dangerous, too. It is a harrowing two- to three-hour trip through life-threatening, tumultuous seas.

Coast Guard helicopters regularly are used to evacuate residents in horrid weather. Each medevac mission presents a very real danger to pilots, crew and residents. Watching videos of the missions will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

Congress has done about everything it can do to appease environmentalists and avoid building a road. In 1997, it provided $37.5 million for a clinic and water access to Cold Bay that included a $9 million hovercraft later beached because of expense and reliability issues.

It turns out, a simple, gravel road is the only safe way to medically evacuate those who need to reach Anchorage, no matter the weather. Without the road, somebody, some day, again is going to die in King Cove trying to reach medical help.

It is simply a matter of time. Perhaps Haaland will see the importance of valuing human life over ducks and eel grass.

We can hope, but we will not hold our breath.

Read more at the Anchorage Daily Planet.

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Latest comments

  • Not a chance.

    The lives and health of a few natives are immaterial to Democrats.

    Alaska is a nature preserve, not a place where people live

    • This is dejavue all over again. There’s no convincing these people. Just build the road and everyone keep their lips sealed. Last I checked, the rule of law is dead, and if someone indicts for building the big bad road, it’ll be in the courts forever and viola! Lives will be saved.

  • The road from King Cove to Cold Bay is being sold as a panacea for a problem that exists at such a small level statistically that there is no good reason to build it. It is presented as a life or death matter that demands the solution the people in King Cove have adopted as their birthright.
    Several problems here.
    What about all the other villages in the state that can’t accommodate large aircraft? Do they all deserve roads to all weather airports? If not, why not? Or maybe all weather airports? Aren’t their lives valuable, too?
    My understanding is that there are existing roads in the Izembeck Refuge. Why not use those to get to Cold Bay? Because they don’t go there? If not, why not? Is it because the only road that could be built to Cold Bay would impinge on the refuge?
    Emergency evac is necessary in rare circumstances, usually acute illness or injury. Many chronic conditions leave people susceptible to medical issues that require immediate attention. A modern clinic was built in King Cove to deal with most of those issues. For the ones that it can’t handle, evacuation is required. But if someone has a chronic condition that requires, or could require, evacuation, why does that person stay in a location where it could be dangerous to him or her? I would move to place where I could get the attention I needed without the need for evacuation. It could save my life. Staying put could end it.
    Just because Cold Bay has a military grade landing strip doesn’t mean it is usable in all kinds of weather. I remember a news story a few years ago that was being reported from King Cove when the road issue had resurfaced. Aircraft could not access King Cove to make an evacuation. The road, had it existed, would not have helped. Cold Bay was closed down, too.
    The Izembeck National Wildlife Refuge is unique, not just to Alaska, but to the planet. It deserves to be protected. If there is a situation with a matter of life or death in King Cove, that is hardly unique. Rescue from remote areas is risky in many instances. Lives have been lost and will continue to be lost. Safety for those folks in King Cove can be ameliorated but not eliminated.
    Going back to the story about the airports in King Cove and Cold Bay being closed, having a road would not have mattered. All of them were impassable.

    • When I see something like this, my thoughts is pave the whole thing over.
      Down to the last blade of grass.

  • Greg, yes actually every village in the state deserves a road, if they want one. In the lower 48 every phone booth in the middle of nowhere has a road. It may not be a grand highway, but you can get in your car and drive there. Somehow those same lower 48 folks demand Alaska to remain some sort of park.
    There should not be any discussion. The state is responsible for infrastructure and the Feds have for decades hung on to large chunks of land, they were supposed to turn over. I say since the Feds are not sticking to the contract, why should we. Build the Road!

    • And you are, as a citizen of AK, willing to pay for all those thousands of miles of roads? And their maintenance?

      • Considering how many billions of dollars our state legislature wasted on fish plants, dairies, gas pipeline, ferry boats, bloated administration, etc. we could have had considerably more roads miles…and with it commerce.
        The small little connector road is doable, especially using the old WWII network and maintenance could be negotiated between the state and a local contractor.

  • Obviously, Greg R has never been out there. He has no understanding of the life and death situations that occur in Western Alaska. You might consider, Greg, that God made the earth and all that is within it FOR MANKIND, not the reverse. But you probably don’t believe in God, so the point is moot.

    • Then let God sort this out. If He is all powerful and all knowing, He doesn’t need our help.

  • She was appointed by Biden, who wants Alaska to be a national park and doesn’t want any non-Native people to live here except federal employees. (Alaska environmentalists agree with that by the way.) She also refers to her daughter with the pronoun they. This is the first time in her life she has any power, and now she has power over Alaskans. I think we know what she will decide on most matters.

  • Dere is dis ting called infrastructure. Every udder state in de union has it. Dems won’t let “dere” playground have it. Why bodder coming. Nuttin to see here.

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