8 year anniversary of King Cove Road rejection sparks discussion about its future

Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 8:39 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The proposed King Cove Road was rejected eight years ago by former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and the fight continues today as Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and King Cove Corp. continue to advocate for the stretch of road that would connect King Cove to Cold Bay.

“The decision made by Sally Jewel was heartbreaking for us, and to think it’s eight years later and 157 medevacs in the past eight years, that just never goes away and we continue to struggle and the hardship that it puts on people is very disheartening,” Della Trumble, spokesperson for the King Cove Corp., said over the phone on Thursday. “You go through it every day and it’s sad.”

Since Cold Bay has a larger airport, supporters feel a road connecting the two towns would allow King Cove residents to fly out for medical treatment rather than take a medevac or plane that often get weather delayed. In the years since the proposal was denied by Jewell, there have been 157 medevac flights for residents of King Cove, according to a press release from Murkowski.

“You are cutting off the people from literally a safe harbor,” Murkowski told Alaska’s New Source on Thursday. She described the project as a small connector road of about 11-12 miles.

The proposed road would cut through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to connect King Cove and Cold Bay. Those opposed to the road feel it would set a precedent for other conservation lands and hurt the environment.

Trustees for Alaska attorney Bridget Psarianos told Alaska’s News Source on Dec. 10 that the project would put a road through “the biological heart” of the refuge. She said the isthmus the road would go through, with water on either side, is the reason the refuge was designated one. It’s a wetland area that provides habitat for endangered birds and marine life, she said.

“The road would just punch right through it and secretaries of Interior for decades have found that a road through Izembek would irreparably damage the refuge and wouldn’t serve the purposes for which it even became a refuge in the first place,” Psarianos said.

In 2018, the Department of the Interior signed a land exchange agreement with King Cove Corp. The land deal was shot down in federal court, but that decision has been challenged. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hasn’t made a ruling.

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is in the process of planning a trip to Alaska and will visit King Cove to learn more about the proposed road. Haaland had previously scheduled a trip to Alaska but it was canceled due to high COVID-19 case rates.

“I am calling on Secretary Haaland to visit King Cove to see the need to protect local residents’ health and safety as soon as possible,” Murkowski said in the Thursday press release. “The federal government has a trust responsibility to the Tribes of King Cove, but it has been broken for decades. I also urge her to consider alternatives that could help us construct this road in an environmentally sound manner sooner than litigation will allow.”

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