February 12, 2014
Senator Demands Secretary Protect Remote Alaskans’ Health and Safety
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) yesterday sent a letter calling on Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to uphold the promises and commitments she made more than seven weeks ago to protect the health and safety of those who live in the remote village of King Cove, Alaska.
“While you chose to deny the surest option to provide safe and reliable emergency medical access for the residents of King Cove – a short, one-lane gravel road that would be used only for non-commercial purposes – you also led us to believe that your decision was not the absolute end of your department’s involvement,” Murkowski wrote the secretary.
Murkowski pointed to three specific passages in Secretary Jewell’s press release of Dec. 23, 2013 – issued the day before Christmas Eve – announcing her official rejection of the life-saving road for King Cove. In that release, Secretary Jewell explicitly:
- Recognized the “need for reliable methods of emergency transport from King Cove;”
- Re-affirmed the Department’s “commitment to assist in identifying and evaluating options that would improve access to affordable transportation and health care;” and
- Pledged to “continue to work with the state of Alaska and local communities to support viable alternatives to ensure continued transportation and infrastructure improvements for the health and safety of King Cove residents.”
Murkowski asked Jewell to provide specific examples of actions to fulfill those commitments that she or others at Interior have taken since issuing the press release.
Murkowski posed the questions to Jewell after the president’s nominee to be assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, Rhea Suh, could not name a single action anyone at Interior has taken to protect the health and safety of King Cove residents since rejecting the road. In response to a question that Murkowski submitted for the record of her recent nominations hearing, Suh further acknowledged that she was “not aware of any actions the department has taken on this issue since Dec. 23, 2013.”
“With the health and safety of the residents of King Cove still directly threatened, I expect that you fully understand why I am unwilling to let this matter recede,” Murkowski wrote to Jewell. “I also expect that you understand why I am unwilling to allow your department to do nothing to help the Alaskans it has promised to assist, yet, to this point, only further imperiled.”
Jewell on Dec. 23 rejected a proposed land exchange in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge that would have provided a life-saving road for the residents of King Cove. The exchange would have added more than 56,000 acres of state and tribal land to the Izembek refuge, including new wilderness area, in exchange for 206 acres to build a single-lane, gravel road through a corner of the refuge. The restricted-access road would provide safe and reliable transportation for the 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. Congress approved the land exchange in 2009.