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ICYMI: Secretary Jewell doesn't get it - we will never give up

ICYMI: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell does not get it. When it comes to protecting their families, the people of King Cove will never give up. And Sen. Lisa Murkowski will never give up doing everything within her power to assist them in their struggle for justice. That is not hyperbole. It is the sound of frustration in the face of a callous federal government that dismisses the life-and-death concerns of American families who simply want to make sure their loved ones can reach a hospital during the region’s frequent bad weather.

Secretary Jewell’s latest insult occurred earlier today in a meeting with state legislators at the White House. Jewell told Alaska state Rep. Lance Pruitt that she has more important things to deal with and that Alaskans should just “get over” her rejection of the King Cove road. Pruitt responded in a press release (below and attached).

Jewell has used the “get over it” line before in a message to Murkowski. It was not well received.  

“The passage of time has not lessened my passion to see justice for the people of King Cove. I am unwilling to simply ‘get over it.’ I am also unwilling to allow your department to do nothing to help the Alaskans it has promised to assist, who at this point have only been further imperiled,” Murkowski said at a hearing in March of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. “I need you to carry the message to this administration that this road is nonnegotiable; that the health and safety of the people of King Cove is nonnegotiable. And that I will do everything – everything within my power to make sure that the needs of these people are taken care of and put first,”

What exactly are these more important things that Jewell claims she is dealing with? Hiking her way across America’s national parks? Kayaking with friendly lawmakers? Cheerleading for the administration’s climate regulations? If Secretary Jewell doesn’t consider Interior’s trust responsibility to the Native peoples of American important to the department’s mission – President Obama should find one who does.  

Wednesday was the seven-month anniversary of Jewell’s rejection of the road and land exchange. Murkowski sent Jewell a letter marking the date and asking her to respond to numerous requests from King Cove that have been ignored. Murkowski also asked Jewell to return to the isolated community to explain her inaction on her promise to find an alternative to a road. Murkowski’s letter is available here.     

The residents of King Cove have been fighting for decades for a road that would provide safe access to an nearby all-weather airport, the second-longest runway in the state. It’s not hard to understand why – 19 people have died, either in plane crashes or because they couldn’t get to timely medical treatment. In a community with no hospital or doctor, King Cove residents must fly more than 600 miles to Anchorage for most medical procedures, including cases of serious trauma and for childbirth. And because of geography and weather, the runway at King Cove is closed an average of 100 days a year. The Cold Bay airport is closed less than 10 days a year.

Unfortunately, when the federal government created the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge some 50 years ago, it cut off the traditional land route between the Aleut community of King Cove and the old World War II outpost of Cold Bay.

King Cove is asking for 11 miles of road – a gravel, one-lane, 13-feet-wide road – through an area that the Aleut stewarded for thousands of years before the federal government came along. And they are willing to pay dearly for it. King Cove and the state of Alaska have agreed to give the refuge more than 56,000 acres of prized wildlife habitat, including tens of thousands of acres of new wilderness, in exchange for a 206-acre road corridor.

More information on what would be – and someday will be – the short, gravel, one-lane, life-saving King Cove road is available on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee website.


Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

RELATED PRESS RELEASE:

INTERIOR SECRETARY TELLS ALASKANS TO “GET OVER IT” ON KING COVE ROAD DECISION

Majority Leader Pruitt shocked at blunt reaction from question posed today at White House

Friday, July 25, 2014, Washington, D.C. – Alaska House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt released the following statement today in reaction to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s unprofessional comment when asked by Pruitt about her intentions to reconsider her Record of Decision on blocking a land trade that would lead to the development of the long-sought King Cove-Cold Bay Road.

In a meeting at the White House this morning sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures with three Obama Administration cabinet secretaries, Pruitt asked Secretary Jewell if she knew when she would respond to numerous requests from local residents, the legislature, and Alaska’s congressional members to reconsider her decision to block the proposed land trade between the state and federal governments.

“I was shocked and taken aback at her quick and callous comment indicating that there were bigger issues and that Alaskans need to just ‘get over this.’ It angers me that the person who holds the power to simply shutdown this vital public safety project would be so quick to dismiss my question, and showcase in front of legislative leaders from across the country her arrogance and lack of respect to our entire state.

“King Cove residents deserve a response to their letter requesting reconsideration. I asked the question after meeting with both Senator Begich and Senator Murkowski yesterday. Sen. Murkowski sent a letter to Secretary Jewell just two days ago on the issue, and asked me to follow up. I didn’t expect such a hand-waving dismissal. It’s, sadly, not surprising, except for the setting. Bald face, contemptuous federal overreach on full display, in front of my peers from across the nation.”

Secretary Jewell nixed the land swap in February, whereby land in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge would be given to the state in order to construct a one-lane gravel road connecting the community of King Cove with Cold Bay. The road would primarily serve a public safety purpose, since Cold Bay has a longer air strip for medical emergencies.

The Legislature unanimously passed House Joint Resolution 30 in March; Representative Bob Herron’s six-page resolution urging Secretary Jewell to reconsider her decision.

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