Vows to Continue Fighting for What’s Right for People of King Cove
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today slammed Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on the Senate floor for rejecting a proposed road that would provide the remote Alaska community of King Cove with emergency medical access needed to protect local residents.
Murkowski called the decision “heartless,” saying it endangers residents and ignores the Interior Department’s trust responsibility to Alaska Natives.
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“With this decision, Secretary Jewell has put the interests of certain environmental groups – whose position on this matter is extreme – and the alleged peace and comfort of the birds in Izembek above the lives of hundreds of Alaskans,” Murkowski said. “By denying this short gravel road – needed to ensure the people of King Cove reliable access to the all-weather airport in nearby Cold Bay – Secretary Jewell has effectively turned her back on the Aleut people of Western Alaska. She has discarded her duty to uphold the trust responsibility the federal government owes to the native peoples.”
A land exchange approved by Congress in 2009 – the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Land Exchange Act – would have added more than 56,000 acres of state and tribal land to the Izembek refuge in exchange for a 206-acre road corridor through one of its corners. The purpose of the single-lane, gravel road is to provide safe transportation for residents of King Cove to the all-weather airport in neighboring Cold Bay in cases of medical emergencies during the area’s often extreme weather conditions.
“It is clear to us in Alaska that our lives and well-being matter little to Secretary Jewell. It is quite clear that she neither understands nor cares about the most basic needs of our remote residents. And it is quite clear that we have again received unfair treatment at the hands of our federal government,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski took Jewell to King Cove in August to meet with local residents and see the daily challenges they face in trying to travel outside their isolated community, which has only a small health clinic that cannot handle traumas or childbirth. Murkowski’s staff also toured King Cove with Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn at the end of June.
Murkowski said Jewell’s decision is symptomatic of Interior’s treatment of Alaska and other western states on land and access issues.
“Quite frankly, I have a hard time believing that if the same situation occurred in the lower 48, the decision would be the same. But I assure you that if this decision stands, the interests of people throughout the United States are at serious risk,” she said.
Murkowski noted that she is considering all options to protect the people of King Cove.
“I want my colleagues here in the Senate as well as the administration to know that I will not let this issue die. And there’s a simple reason why: I am not willing to let anyone in King Cove suffer or die. I will not stop fighting for what is right and for the residents of King Cove,” Murkowski said. “The people of King Cove are without hope for one reason – Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.”