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Opponents of King Cove/Izembek Land Exchange Continue to Spread False Claims

Lower 48 environmental activists continue to send out the same falsehoods regarding the proposal championed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to build a life-saving road connecting the Alaska community of King Cove to the state's longest runway in nearby Cold Bay. The claims of the special interest groups like The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Audubon and others are simply false. And that’s putting it mildly.

The residents of King Cove have been fighting for decades for a road allowing them safe access to an-all weather airport built in their backyard with their tax dollars. Simply put, this is an issue of environmental justice for the people of King Cove.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

Clearly, the people of King Cove, most of whom are Alaska Natives, are not being treated fairly by their government.

Rather than take the word of special interest groups that have never set foot in King Cove, why not contact the people of King Cove directly and hear their stories:

  • Talk to Health Aide Cameron Spivey at the King Cove Health Clinic and hear her stories of trying to keep patients, including infants and young children, alive without a respirator or the ability to treat sever traumas when whether keeps medevac flights from reaching King Cove.
  • Or contact Etta Kuzakin, president of the federally recognized Agdaagux Tribe of King Cove, who, at 34 weeks of pregnancy, went into early labor on March 4, 2013, but couldn’t get to an Anchorage hospital due to weather conditions. The U.S. Coast Guard, after several attempts, was finally able to get her to Cold Bay where she was flown to Anchorage and safely delivered a daughter. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as well in 2010, when Kuzakin went into labor at 4 1/2 months pregnant. Heavy fog made flying out of King Cove impossible. The health clinic tried unsuccessfully to stop her labor as she tried to make it out on the hovercraft. Her baby was born at the Cold Bay dock, too premature to survive.
  • Or Della Trumble, administrator at the Agdaaagux Tribe of King Cove, who watched as the plane her daughter was on crashed into the King Cove runway due to bad weather. Della was lucky, her daughter survived the crash.

There are literally dozens of stories like the ones above. If you want to talk to any of the people I’ve mentioned or others, contact Laura Tanis, the communications director for King Cove and the Aleutians East Borough: Ltanis@aeboro.org, (907) 274 7579.

Hearing directly from the people of King Cove is exactly what Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Sen. Murkowski will do when they visit at the end of this month. Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn already visited King Cove at the end of June and heard these stories for himself.

As you consider the claims of the special interest groups who oppose the road, keep in mind these facts:

  • King Cove’s runway was built in 1970 on the only available piece of land that could serve the needed purpose, but its geographical position in a narrow valley between volcanic mountains challenges pilots were both rugged topography and the perfect funnel for the region’s fierce winds. Within 11 years of the runway being built, King Cove suffered three fatal plane crashes, killing 10 people and prompting the community to seek a road route to Cold Bay. Over the past 30 years, 19 deaths have been attributed to the lack of land access to Cold Bay, either because of plane crashes or an inability to get timely medical treatment. With only a small clinic and no full-time physician, residents of King Cove must travel 600 miles to Anchorage for most medical procedures, including childbirth. http://bit.ly/VEjyFC
  • The King Cove airstrip is closed due to bad weather more than 100 days a year on average, according to Cold Bay Flight Service Station. And nearly 40 percent of the flights at King Cove are interrupted by wind and turbulence, fog, rain or snow squalls. The Cold Bay airport, on the other hand, is closed due to weather just nine to 10 days a year, on average, according to the Cold Bay Flight Service Station.
  • In a survey of half of the households in King Cove, fully 58 percent of those surveyed said they or a family member have been delayed when traveling because of a medical emergency due to bad weather.
  • The road is one of the state's top priorities and, as such, is at the top of Alaska's Statewide Transportation Improvement Program budget. The only money that will be spent on the road is the state of Alaska's transportation dollars. Nothing more.
  • Without land access, the only alternative to evacuate a patient during bad weather is to call the U.S. Coast Guard to send a rescue helicopter from Kodiak at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of as much as $210,000 a trip. The Coast Guard was called in five times in 2012 alone. A road is not only the best option from an access standpoint, it's also the most cost effective.
  • An Alaska Department of Transportation engineer building the road told Asst. Sec. Washburn and other visiting officials that the road would be passable year round. Road graders from King Cove would handle clearing any snow the winds don’t blow away. (Honestly, when was the last time you heard an Alaskan get stuck in the snow?)
  • And finally, regarding the claim that the road would cause significant ecological damage to the refuge, the Izembek Refuge – including federally designated wilderness areas – already contains nearly 70 miles of road built by the U.S. Military during World War II, more than 50 miles of which continue to be used today by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the duck hunters who visit the seven privately owned hunting lodges in Cold Bay.
  • King Cove and the state of Alaska have agreed to give the refuge more than 56,000 acres of prized wildlife habitat, including areas with high oil and natural gas potential, in exchange for a 206-acre road corridor through a small sliver of the refuge. To be clear, 56,393 acres for 206 acres. If conservation is the goal, the environmental community and the Interior Department should be doing backflips over this deal.
  • So let’s not pretend this is about protecting the birds. The refuge actively promotes the area’s world-class waterfowl hunting opportunities and has some of the highest daily bag limits anywhere – 6 Canada geese, 2 black brant, 8 puddle ducks, and 15 sea ducks. That's 31 birds per day, per hunter. And then the ptarmigan limit is another 20 birds per day. But somehow an ambulance transporting a patient along a single-lane gravel road would cause serious harm?  http://bit.ly/16imdMB
  • And, as for the road setting a precedent, there are 4,900 miles of roads in the National Wildlife Refuge System nationally.

The real question is why some Lower 48 activists continue to believe that their fellow Americans do not deserve the same access to emergency medical care that they take for granted for their own families.

Robert Dillon | Communications Director

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

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