King Cove Tribal and Community Leaders Praise Senate Legislation to Construct Road
January 15, 2014
“After hearing first-hand about the tragic consequences of critically ill people being transported through 12-foot seas to get medical care, their decision to put wildlife ahead of public safety was simply irresponsible,” said Sen. Begich said in a press release. “Even after visiting King Cove and being stranded in inclement weather themselves, DOI bureaucrats have failed to recognize Alaska’s unique needs.”
Begich said, “Residents of King Cove have lived in this area for hundreds of years before the creation of the refuge in 1980. They’ve taken good care of their backyard, and if they’re willing to give up such an overwhelming amount of their land claims to build a simple one-lane gravel road, Washington shouldn’t stand in the way.”
“We are very grateful to Senator Begich, Senator Murkowski, Congressman Young and Governor Parnell for their continued commitment to fight for the people of King Cove,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack. “Protecting the lives of our elders, children and everyone else in our community so we have safe, reliable access to the Cold Bay Airport for health and quality-of-life reasons have always been at the heart of this matter. We don’t want to see any further loss of life or tragedy because of extreme weather conditions standing in the way of critically-needed health care.”
King Cove is only accessible by sea or air. The gravel runway is suitable only for small planes. The remote Aleutian community is often plagued by gale-force winds and thick fog, creating stormy, dangerous travel conditions, especially during medevacs. Over the years, more than a dozen people have lost their lives, either in plane crashes or because they couldn’t get treatment in a timely manner. The community has a clinic, but no doctor. Residents must fly 600 miles to Anchorage, via Cold Bay, for most medical procedures, including serious trauma cases and childbirth.
“Clearly, Secretary Jewell’s unsupported and ill-informed decision based on a faulty EIS needs to be corrected,” said Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the Agdaagux Tribal Council and the King Cove (Native) Corporation. “It completely ignores the federal government’s trust responsibility to the Aleut (Alaska Native) people of King Cove. Instead, Jewell has placed the health and well-being of birds above human beings when there is no conflict. That’s just wrong, and it’s a slap in the face to our people. We’d like to thank Senator Begich for taking the lead in attempting to correct this injustice by introducing this bill. Our Congressional delegation has shown, time and time again, that the lives of our people matter, and we are so grateful for that support.”
On January 9, 2014, Senator Lisa Murkowski chastised Secretary Jewell during a speech on the Senate floor. She called the secretary’s decision “heartless” and vowed that this issue was not over.
“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,” Senator Murkowski said during her speech. “She has discarded her duty to uphold the trust responsibility the federal government owes to the native peoples.”
Congressman Don Young called Jewell’s decision shameful and cowardly.
“It is appalling for a Department Secretary, tasked with protecting the federal trust responsibility of our nation’s first people, to completely overlook and ignore a group of Alaska Natives,” Congressman Young said. “The Obama Administration and his environmentalist allies think Alaska’s fight for King Cove is over, but it’s clear that the way forward is through additional legislation in Congress.”
Alaska Governor Sean Parnell called Jewell’s decision “unconscionable” and said this is a matter of life and death for Alaskans.
“This is another irrational decision by the federal government that denies Alaskans access -- in this case, access to emergency treatment”, Governor Parnell said. “As governor, I will continue to fight for the residents of King Cove.”
The new law includes the same land swap contained in the 2009 legislation. The legislation would convey 206 acres of federal land in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to the State of Alaska to build an approximately 20-mile long, one-lane, gravel road. In exchange, the federal government would receive 43,093 acres adjacent to the Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife from the State of Alaska and 13,300 acres from King Cove Corporation to be added to the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, the King Cove Corporation would also relinquish its selection of 5,430 acres inside the Izembek National Widlife Refuge.
“This is the deal the delegation and I voted for in 2009. It was a good deal then, and I’m sticking by it,” said Senator Begich.
“This land exchange is a 300 to 1 ratio in favor of the federal government,” said Aleutians East Borough Stanley Mack. “But most importantly, it will save the lives of hundreds of people for generations to come while protecting the environment and the surrounding wildlife.”
After DOI’s December decision against the road, Sen. Begich vowed to introduce legislation as soon as the Congress reconvened in January. His bill mandates an exchange of lands proposed by the State of Alaska and local Native corporations in order for the state to receive title to a road corridor through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. This will allow the State to build a one-lane gravel road, providing residents of King Cove secure, year-round access to critical medical care. King Cove residents for years have lobbied for the road.
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