Secretary Zinke Approves Initial Plan to Build a Life-Saving Road for Alaska Native Village of King Cove
Secretary Ryan Zinke signs the agreement to approve the King Cove road, as Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Governor Bill Walker, and Senator Dan Sullivan look on.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior
WASHINGTON - U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed an agreement with the Alaska Native King Cove Native Corp., which is made up of tribal members from the local Agdaagux and Belkofski tribes, to build a life-saving road between the Native village and the nearby all-weather airport in Cold Bay. The village of King Cove is an isolated area in the Aleutian peninsula that currently lacks any safe and reliable ground transportation for medical evacuation in the case of an emergency. There have been 18 deaths attributed to the lack of road access, either in plane crashes or the inability to receive timely medical treatment. In a community with no hospital or doctor, King Cove residents must fly 600 miles to Anchorage for most medical procedures.
The agreement signed begins a process between Interior and the King Cove Native Corp. of identifying land of equal value needed for a single lane, restricted-access road.
The Aleut residents of King Cove have worked for more than three decades to win federal approval of a single-lane, life-saving road corridor connecting their isolated community to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport. A small stretch of road, approximately 12 miles long, is all that is needed to link King Cove to the existing road system within the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, which is located next to an 10,000-foot runway. The corridor will provide the village with its first and only dependable ground transportation for medical emergencies.
"Above all, the federal government's job is to keep our people safe and respect our treaty commitments with Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Today I am proudly fulfilling both of those missions," said Secretary Zinke. "Previous administrations prioritized birds over human lives, and that's just wrong. The people of King Cove have been stewarding the land and wildlife for thousands of years and I am confident that working together we will be able to continue responsible stewardship while also saving precious lives."
“The people of King Cove deeply appreciate the dedication and hard work Secretary Zinke and his team have put in to make this land exchange possible,” said Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the King Cove Native Corp. and a member of the local Agdaagux tribe. “Access to the all-weather airport in Cold Bay is truly a matter of life and death to us, so we are eternally grateful to all those who have listened to the people of our region. Today’s agreement goes a long way toward restoring our faith that the federal government takes seriously its trust responsibility to the Aleut and to all Alaska Natives.”
Also participating in the ceremony were Alaska Governor Bill Walker, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, Congressman Don Young, U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral, and members of the Alaska Federation of Natives for an announcement on important Alaska priorities at the Department.
“Common sense and compassion have finally prevailed,” Senator Lisa Murkowski said. “For decades, the people of King Cove have asked for what virtually every other American already takes for granted - a reliable way to protect their health and safety and improve their quality of life. Previous administrations have focused on just about everything except the most obvious solution, which has always been a short, gravel connector road. I am so pleased for King Cove and deeply grateful to Secretary Zinke and President Trump for taking this critical step.”
“For years, our federal government has been telling the people of King Cove that protecting birds is more important than their health and safety,” said Senator Dan Sullivan. “This ends today. I thank Congressman Young and Senator Murkowski for all their hard work over the years to right this wrong. I thank the Trump administration for its support, and I particularly thank Secretary Zinke for listening to the people of King Cove, whose voices have been ignored all of these many years. This is a good day for Alaska and a good day for America.”
“For many years, I and many other leaders from our state have advocated for construction of a life-saving road to connect King Cove and Cold Bay. Finally, the federal government has heard our voice," said Governor Bill Walker. "I thank Secretary Ryan Zinke and everyone else who had a hand in making this happen. Alaskans must control our own destiny, and this decision certainly empowers the residents of King Cove to make sure they are safe and healthy."
“This road will provide residents of King Cove safe and reliable access to an airstrip and to commercial medevac services,” said Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. “It will significantly reduce the risk our U.S. Coast Guard aircrews are exposed to while operating in one of the U.S. Coast Guard’s most unforgiving environments – Alaska.”
“I have been working with the residents of King Cove for over 30 years to help them get a life-saving road to the community of Cold Bay. This is a great day not only for King Cove, but for all of Alaska,” said Alaska Congressman Don Young. “In 2013, Sally Jewell decided that birds were more important than people, and today we finally have a Secretary who takes the life and death of Alaska Natives seriously. I want to thank Secretary Zinke on behalf of all Alaskans for his work in getting the King Cove road approved. I look forward to working with him on other issues for our great state.”