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The City of King Cove Celebrates its 60th “Birthday” As an Incorporated City

King Cove:  An "Old" Alaskan City with New Ideas

On Sept. 22, 2009, the City of King Cove celebrates its 60th year as an incorporated city. The citywide celebration includes food, music, performances by the Aleut dancers and games. The festivities will kick off at 3 p.m. at the multi-purpose facility. Governor Parnell, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich and Congressman Don Young have been invited.  This milestone is a particular point of pride for this modestly-sized fishing village.  Located on the rim of the Alaska Peninsula, perched between volcanoes on one side, and the fish-rich waters of the Pacific Ocean on the other, Aleuts have occupied this remote, rugged corner of the world for at least 4,000 years. 

It was a bold idea to seek an incorporated city status, with statehood still the dream of a few territorial leaders.  On September 9, 1949, King Cove became one of only 20 incorporated cities in the entire Territory of Alaska.  Only two other southwest communities, Kodiak (1940) and Unalaska (1942), were incorporated before King Cove.   It would prove to be one of many forward-looking decisions that identify King Cove as a city with vision for a better life.

More than 15 years ago, King Cove took another leap of faith by deciding to invest heavily in the still-developing technology of renewable energy.  The result was the Delta Creek Hydroelectric Project.  The risks were great - King Cove was a remote site for a project of this complexity. No other comparably-sized community had ever undertaken a renewable energy project on this scale.  The price for diesel fuel still hovered comfortably at $.75/gallon. But with today's diesel prices topping $3 per gallon, King Cove is enjoying  the results of this project's success, having achieved the lowest, single-site cost of power among all 160+ communities in the State's Power Cost Equalization program.

Delta Creek was engineered using run-of-the-river technology, a design that puts the water back into the creek before it reaches critical fish habitat.  The city can brag that cleaner hydro power has replaced almost 60% of its electrical generation, the dollars saved from reduced diesel fuel purchases pay for the balance of the construction debt. At 24 cents/kWh, King Cove is significantly sheltered from the uncertainty of global energy supply costs. 
Now, chapter two of the conversion to hydro power is unfolding. Recent feasibility studies on nearby Waterfall Creek have indicated the potential to contribute another 1.4 million kWh annually to King Cove's electrical grid. Waterfall Creek is geographically close to Delta Creek, which means existing infrastructure will work for both sites.  With the addition of Waterfall Creek, up to 80% of King Cove's electrical generation will come from renewable energy. 

In addition, the city's new diesel power plant, which came on-line in 2008, has the benefit of creating waste heat that can be piped to other buildings for reuse.  King Cove's new school, sited next to the new power plant and owned by the Aleutians East Borough ("AEB"), is the beneficiary of that waste heat.  Last year, this waste heat displaced over 19,000 gallons of diesel fuel.  This saved AEB more than $60,000, in addition to reducing the community's carbon emissions.

But there is one goal that King Cove wants which will greatly improve the quality of life for its residents. That goal is access to the all-weather airport in Cold Bay. For more than 25 years now, the community has been aggressively pursuing this road link.  Now, with tremendous support from the State of Alaska and our Alaska Washington, D.C. delegation, an unprecedented land exchange with the federal government, has been proposed.

However, the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is located in King Cove's backyard.  No one told the residents of King Cove decades ago that, with the designation as "wilderness" of 303,000 acres in the refuge, their only option for a road would require an act of Congress.  With an arrogance that is all too-familiar to indigenous populations, a federal lock-up of ancestral lands was enacted without a single consultation with, or notice to, the people whose lives and liberties would be most affected.  

Now, with passage in 2009 of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, a provision was included allowing for a road, but with conditions:  it must have an environmental impact review process AND the Secretary of the Interior must declare the project to be in the public interest.  King Cove plans to cooperate fully in the EIS. With fingers crossed and hopes high, the community awaits the outcome of this process. We are optimistic this modest road connection will be approved, and predictable and safe access to the Cold Bay airport will become a reality for our residents.

In the meantime, the City is proud of its new school which AEB constructed and opened in 2008 and our state-of-the-art medical clinic which opened just a few years ago.  In the spirit of reusing resources, the "old" school building has been transformed into a new multi-purpose community center.  A very active Teen Center, community Co-Op second hand store, weight and exercising rooms along with two gymnasiums, Boys & Girls Club space, and an elders meeting place are some of the activities now occurring in this facility

King Cove's success as a thriving, adventuresome city is attributable to many factors: the vision of its elders and elected officials, the generosity and trust of its funding partners, (especially the State of Alaska, Denali Commission, BIA and the Alaska Energy Authority), and its collective will to take a chance on the future while never losing respect for the past.  This is no small thing for a small town with a big heart.

This community is also in the process of a major local streets project.  Over the last few years, all of King Cove's streets have been upgraded, utilities relocated, better drainage installed, a new bridge has replaced problematic culverts, and pedestrian safety enhancements have been made.  The final project element will be asphalt paving of these four miles of City streets next summer.  Over $12 million will have been spent on this project in a model partnership between the City, Agdaagux Tribe of King Cove, BIA, Denali Commission, State of Alaska, and Western Federal Lands Highway Division.

Finally, King Cove's original small boat harbor will be completely rehabilitated next year.  This is a $6.0 million project.  Of this amount, the City has been awarded $3.0 million from the State's municipal harbor grant program and $1.5 million from the Denali Commission.  The City will contribute the remaining $1.5 million (25% of the project) for the project.

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