WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will travel to King Cove on Friday, Aug. 30, with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to talk with local residents about the need for a life-saving road to connect them to the state's longest airport runway in nearby Cold Bay.
The day-long visit will include a tour of King Cove, a visit to the local health clinic to discuss its capabilities and limitations, and a meeting with residents to hear testimony regarding the access issues and the need for the road. Murkowski and Jewell will then fly over the area where the road would be connected with the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge’s existing road system. They will also view the 56,000 acres the state of Alaska and the King Cove Native Corp. are giving to the federal government in exchange for the 206-acre road corridor.
“This is an environmental justice issue,” Murkowski said. “Conservation must be balanced with the health and safety needs of local residents. If it is not, support for additional conservation areas will be jeopardized. King Cove was disadvantaged by the wildness designation that separated them from Cold Bay. There is a simple remedy that will restore access; Congress has approved it and I’m pleased to bring Secretary Jewell out to see for herself the wisdom of the proposal.”
A fact sheet, history and maps on King Cove and the land exchange are attached. For more information on King Cove, contact Laura Tanis, communications director for the Aleutians East Borough, (907) 274 7579 office, (907) 947 5778 cell, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The residents of King Cove have been fighting for decades for a road that would provide safe access to an all-weather airport built in their backyard with their tax dollars. It’s not hard to understand why – more than a dozen 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 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 53 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 on average, according to Cold Bay Flight Service Station. 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, on average, 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 Coast Guard was called five times in 2012 alone.
Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn visited King Cove on June 28 to look at the medical need for the road and to see if the Interior Department had fulfilled its trust responsibility to Alaska Natives. Washburn is expected to report his findings to Secretary Jewell before she makes a final determination on the road.
“After hearing testimony from residents, Assistant Secretary Washburn told us he’s confident the road would be much safer in those times when it’s not safe to travel by sea or air,” said Aleutians East Borough Stanley Mack. “He also said he would tell Secretary Jewell that it shouldn’t be a matter of luck as to whether a medevac patient can get to the hospital or not. We were very encouraged by Washburn’s comments.”
The people of King Cove are asking for 11 miles of road – a gravel, one-lane road all of 13 feet wide – through a wilderness 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 through the refuge.
In 2009, Congress approved legislation authorizing the land exchange and road proposal. The legislation was signed into law, but it still needs the approval of Interior Secretary Jewell. Sens. Murkowski and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) this week published an opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News urging Jewell to approve the road.