WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today called on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to reconsider her recent rejection of a land exchange in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to provide a life-saving road corridor for the isolated community of King Cove, Alaska.
“The health and safety of all Alaskans is of the utmost importance to me and I want you to know that I will not stop advocating for them until safe, reliable emergency access is secured for King Cove,” Murkowski wrote to Secretary Jewell. “You alone have the power to change forever the lives of these Alaskans.”
Murkowski’s letter echoed a similar request for reconsideration filed yesterday by the community of King Cove, the full text of which is available here.
The proposed land exchange, rejected by Secretary Jewell the day before Christmas Eve, would have added more than 56,000 acres of state and tribal land to the Izembek refuge in exchange for a 206-acre, single-lane road through a corner of the refuge. The exchange was approved by Congress in 2009.
The restricted-access road would provide safe transportation for predominantly Aleut residents of King Cove to an all-weather airport in neighboring Cold Bay in cases of emergencies during the area’s often extreme weather conditions. There have been at least 18 deaths over the years caused by transportation-related accidents or the inability to access critical medical treatment in a timely fashion.
“We often times use the term ‘matter of life and death,’ and it is often a figure of speech, but this road will have a very real and tangible impact upon the lives and well-being of the residents of King Cove,” Murkowski wrote.
Jewell visited King Cove with Murkowski in August, met and talked with the local residents about the need for a life-saving road. The visit also included a stop at the King Cove health clinic, allowing Secretary Jewell to see firsthand the limitations of the community’s ability to handle medical emergencies.
“It was my hope that when you visited and heard firsthand the testimony of King Cove residents and saw the conditions that they face, that you would approve the land exchange,” Murkowski wrote. “Our state is a young one, and as a result is often lacking in basic infrastructure, so where many rural areas in the Lower 48 have transportation access, even in and around public lands, in Alaska that is generally not the case. King Cove is distinct, because it is only a few short miles from an all-weather airport, and it is therefore outrageous that we would allow an artificial government designation to block this community’s access to modern transportation infrastructure and adequate medical care.”
Murkowski said that the environmental impact statement on the road proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was fundamentally flawed and failed to account for the health and safety of the residents of King Cove. Secretary Jewell also failed to take into account the trust responsibility the federal government has for the health and safety of the nation’s first peoples.