Environmental groups sue to block road through Alaska refuge

Published: Jan. 31, 2018 at 10:36 PM AKST
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Nine environmental groups are suing the U.S. government to prevent a land trade that could lead to the construction of a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refugee.

Fran Mauer, Alaska Chapter Representative with Wilderness Watch, said the road is more about commerce and would lead to serious environmental impacts.

"The road would pierce through the middle of a narrow isthmus between two coastal lagoons. One is the Izembek Lagoon which has one of the world's largest eelgrass beds, which has vital foods for migrating geese," Mauer said.

The groups said a road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge on the Alaska Peninsula will harm internationally recognized habitat for migrating waterfowl.

The lawsuit says Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lacks the authority to remove land from a refuge established by Congress. Zinke signed an agreement Jan. 22 to swap refuge land for private land.

Katie Strong, senior attorney with Trustees for Alaska, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the nine conservation groups, said the land exchange is unlawful.

"If the Department of Interior and Secretary Zinke can just give away lands anytime a development project is proposed, then none of Alaskans protected areas are safe," Strong said.

Senator Lisa Murkowski said land access to an all-weather airport at Cold Bay will save lives of people needing emergency medical care.

"When the weather is bad to get people to an airport where they can get to town for care, it is a pretty simple task, it is something that most people in America would think is easily done, but in fact, it has taken 30 years," Murkowski said.

In a press release, Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the King Cove Native Corporation said "It is unfortunate that the special interest groups continue to ignore the health and safety concerns of the residents of King Cove."