King Cove Leaders Praise Alaska Delegation for Legislation to Construct Life-Saving Road
King Cove, AK – July 14, 2016 – King Cove tribal and community leaders thanked U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young for introducing identical bills in both chambers of Congress this week which includes a land transfer and road construction linking the remote Alaska community to the all-weather Cold Bay airport. The small life-saving road would provide safe and reliable transportation access from King Cove to Cold Bay. Frequent severe weather often makes travel by air or boat dangerous for medevac patients and rescue personnel.
“We are profoundly grateful to Senators Murkowski and Sullivan, Congressman Don Young, Alaska Governor Bill Walker and the Alaska Legislature for their long-standing support of our needs,” said Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the King Cove (Native) Corporation.
“This is and always has been a human rights issue,” said Henry Mack, King Cove Mayor. “Building a small, gravel road will ensure that we will have a dependable lifeline to safety instead of putting patients and rescue personnel at risk while waiting for the weather to improve. When an emergency happens, every second counts.”
“We are hopeful that this long-fought battle for safe, reliable transportation access will soon be over,” said Aleutians East Borough Mayor Stanley Mack. “We just want to have what most Americans take for granted – the ability to get to a hospital safely when medical emergencies occur.”
“We have said over and over that we won’t give up until this becomes a reality,” Trumble said. “Senators Murkowski and Sullivan and Congressman Don Young have demonstrated to us that they won’t give up on us either. Words cannot adequately express our appreciation.”
Since U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell denied the road on Dec. 23, 2013, there have been a total of 46 medevacs. Of those, 17 involved the Coast Guard and 29 were non-Coast Guard medevacs.
The people of King Cove have worked for more than three decades to build a life-saving road corridor linking their isolated community to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport, 25 miles away. The small stretch of road (approximately 11 miles) would connect to existing roads in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and would provide reliable and safe ground transportation to medevac seriously ill or injured patients when travel by plane or boat is too dangerous due to the area’s frequent periods of harsh weather.
In 2009, Congress and the President approved the road and a massive land swap (61,000 acres from the State and the King Cove Corporation) in exchange for a small, 206-acre, single-lane gravel road corridor. However, the deal was blocked by U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who issued an order rejecting the road and land exchange just two days before Christmas 2013.
On June 4, 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 June 2015, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies approved legislative language by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, directing the Interior Department to do an equal-value land transfer to allow the construction of the connector road. Unfortunately, the language was not included in the final year-end budget deal.
On Sept. 8, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Holland ruled against the King Cove Group and determined there was no violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act (OPLMA). The judge acknowledged that Secretary Jewell based her decision solely on the environmental impacts of the road and ignored the public health and safety impacts. The residents of King Cove continue to fight for life-saving ground access road to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport.