WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today spoke on Senate floor about the latest U.S. Coast Guard medevac out of King Cove, Alaska, and the continued need for an access road to link the remote Alaska Peninsula community with reliable medical care in an emergency.
The Coast Guard on Monday was called once again to King Cove to medevac a 58-year-old Seattle fisherman, who was injured onboard the Seattle-based processor, M/V Golden Alaska, while it was heading from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to its home port in Seattle, Wash. This marks the fifth medevac conducted at King Cove by the Coast Guard so far this year.
- More on Monday’s medevac is available on the Aleutians East Borough website.
The Seattle fisherman severely injured his eye after accidentally being sprayed with a high-pressure hose Monday at about 1 a.m. Alaska Standard Time. The 305-foot vessel, M/V Golden Alaska, immediately turned toward the nearest deep-water port, which happened to be King Cove.
After being delayed by weather, including 60-mile-per-hour wind gusts, the Coast Guard was able to land a helicopter at the King Cove airstrip and transport the patient the few short miles across the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay, where a commercial flight completed the trip to an Anchorage hospital and eye specialist.
The residents of King Cove have been fighting for decades for a road that would provide safe access to an all-weather airport, the second-longest runway in the state. It’s not hard to understand why – 19 people have died, either in plane crashes or because they couldn’t get to timely medical treatment.
In a community with no hospital or doctor, King Cove residents must fly more than 600 miles to Anchorage for most medical procedures, including for serious trauma and childbirth.
Unfortunately, when the federal government created the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge 54 years ago, it cut off the traditional land route between the Aleut community of King Cove and the old World War II outpost of Cold Bay. The people of King Cove were never consulted.
The King Cove airstrip is closed due to bad weather more than 100 days a year. And nearly 40 percent of the flights at King Cove are interrupted by wind and turbulence, fog, rain or snow squalls. The Cold Bay airport, on the other hand, is closed due to weather just nine to 10 days a year, according to the Cold Bay Flight Service Station.
Without land access, the only alternative to evacuate a patient during bad weather is to call the U.S. Coast Guard to send a rescue helicopter from Kodiak at a cost to taxpayers of as much as $210,000 a trip.
The people of King Cove are asking for 11 miles of road – a gravel, one-lane, 13-feet-wide road – through an area that the Aleut stewarded for thousands of years before the federal government came along. And they are willing to pay dearly for it. King Cove and the state of Alaska have agreed to give the refuge more than 56,000 acres of prized wildlife habitat, including areas with high oil and natural gas potential, in exchange for a 206-acre road corridor.
In 2009, Congress approved legislation authorizing the land exchange and road proposal. The legislation was signed into law, but it required the approval of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. She rejected the road on Dec. 23, 2013, with the promise to find an alternative solution. So far, Secretary Jewell has offered no alternative to the people of King Cove.
Additional information on King Cove is available on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee website.