WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to reconsider Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s rejection of a land exchange in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge that would provide a life-saving road for the residents of the isolated community of King Cove, Alaska.
“The core issue in this dispute is one of simple justice: are potential or minor risks to birds more important than the lives of the residents of the native village of King Cove?” Murkowski wrote the president. “The lack of reliable air service to the village has already resulted in 18 recorded deaths, including the deaths of medevac personnel during failed rescue operations.”
Murkowski called Secretary Jewell’s decision to block the road “callous” and said it ignores the very real health and safety concerns of King Cove residents.
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 206 acres to build a single-lane, gravel road through a corner of the refuge. Congress approved the land exchange in 2009.
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.
“I know you feel strongly about access to adequate healthcare, and this is truly an opportunity to right an injustice and allow these Alaskans to live without the fear that inclement weather could cut them off form emergency medical services and turn a treatable condition into a life-threatening emergency,” Murkowski wrote.
Murkowski said the Interior Department ignored the federal government’s unique trust relationship with Alaska Natives in rejecting the road.
“I truly hope that your Administration will reverse this decision against the residents of King Cove,” Murkowski wrote. “I expect you will agree with me that, in this case, the choice is an easy one – choose the people of King Cove.”