King Cove Road back on the table as federal appeals court approves critical land swap
A road is still likely years away from being built with permitting requirements
JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - In a split decision, a three-member federal appeals court panel has upheld a critical land swap through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, advancing the possibility of building a road from King Cove to Cold Bay.
The single-lane gravel road would end at a large, all-weather airport. Advocates say it would better allow King Cove residents to fly out for medical treatment, which can be impossible during bad weather.
But the 11-mile road would be built through a wildlife refuge and environmental groups have long been concerned about the potential impacts that could have on endangered species, including rare nesting birds.
The road has advanced in fits and starts over decades. In 2009, Congress approved a land swap between the U.S. government and King Cove Corp., an Alaska Native village corporation, with the goal to construct the road but that was set aside in 2013.
The land swap was revived under President Donald Trump’s administration before being struck down by an Alaska District Court judge in 2018. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that the land swap was valid, but the road itself has not been approved.
The appeals court’s decision states that the King Cove Corp. would still need to receive permit approvals under the Clean Water Act to build it. There are also endangered species questions that need to be resolved in federal court.
Della Trumble, a spokesperson for King Cove Corp., said the corporation is “very pleased” by Wednesday’s decision, but that members are still reviewing it. King Cove Mayor Warren Wilson said this is just one more step to constructing the road.
“It’s been long-awaited to get this news from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals,” he said by phone.
Wilson was happy the decision had been issued before Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visits Alaska. Her trip has been tentatively scheduled for later this year.
Environmental groups say they are “very disappointed” by Wednesday’s announcement. Bridget Psarianos, an attorney for Trustees for Alaska, said she was encouraged by the court’s dissenting opinion, which argues that the land swap should not have been allowed under the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
Psarianos said her clients are deciding on next steps to fight the road, which could include petitioning for a greater number of appeals court judges to rehear the case.
“The road is definitely back on the table,” she added.
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