Interior Department’s Will Take Closer Look at Proposed King Cove Road and Land Exchange
March 21, 2013
Salazar agreed to take a look at factors that Murkowski has said were not adequately considered the first time, including the health and safety of the residents of King Cove. Under the agreement, the Interior Department will look at whether the environmental impact statement (EIS) by the Fish and Wildlife Service adequately considered the importance of protecting the human health and safety of the residents of King Cove. The review will also include an evaluation of Interior’s native trust responsibilities, and government-to-government consultations with local Aleut groups, including the Aleut Native Corp., Agdaagux Tribe of King Cove, Beikofski Tribal Council, King Cove Corp., City of King Cove and Aleutians East Borough.
If the Interior Department does approve the land exchange and road construction, the federal government would receive more than 56,000 acres of pristine land (43,093 acres of state land and 13,300 acres of land owned by the King Cove Corporation). As part of the land swap, 206 acres would be conveyed to the State of Alaska for a small, single-lane gravel road leading to the all-weather airport in the neighboring community of Cold Bay. The State of Alaska would also receive 1,600 acres from the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge on Sitkinak Island south of Kodiak.
“There is no greater good we could do than to provide the residents of King Cove a safe land route to the airport in Cold Bay so they can be evacuated in cases of medical emergencies,” Murkowski said. “I’m pleased that Secretary Salazar has agreed to take a second look at this. I look forward to working with Interior to ensure the department fulfills its native trust responsibilities to the people of King Cove.”
“We are so pleased and satisfied that the Interior Department has agreed to take a closer look at the environmental impact statement (EIS) by the Fish and Wildlife Service”, said Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the King Cove (Native) Corporation and the Agdaagux Tribal Council of King Cove. “We believe that the human factor, the safety of the King Cove residents, wasn’t given serious consideration, as required by law. We appreciate that the Interior Department will focus on its responsibility to protect the well-being of Alaska Natives. We’re just asking that the Department fulfill its native trust responsibilities to the people of King Cove. That has been what we’ve been asking for during this entire process.”
Secretary Salazar agreed with Murkowski’s request to conduct public meetings with Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn. The review process will be conducted by Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs and overseen by the Secretary of the Interior.
“We’d like to thank Senator Murkowski for insisting that this process be done the right way,” said Aleutians East Borough Mayor Stanley Mack. “Protecting the environment is important, but so are the lives of the Aleut people in King Cove, who have lived here for thousands of years. We can balance the safety of people with the needs of the wildlife and surrounding wilderness. We have proven that we are excellent stewards of the land, and we will continue to do so.”
“We are so appreciative of the support from Senators Murkowski and Begich and Representative Don Young, as well as the State of Alaska,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack. “Without it, we wouldn’t have gotten this far.”
Secretary Salazar announced that a final decision on the proposed land exchange and road corridor will not be made until the review is completed. In a memo to Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe and Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, Secretary Salazar directed them not to issue a final decision on the road until the review was completed. New information uncovered in the review will be taken into account in any final decision on the road, and could result in Interior conducting a supplemental EIS.
Senator Murkowski also announced that she and Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell, if she is confirmed, will travel to King Cove soon to hear residents’ concerns first-hand and see the area.
“This gives us hope that the safety and needs of King Cove residents will truly be taken into consideration this time,” said Della Trumble. “We are so glad that this process appears to be moving ahead in a fair and just manner.”
Praising the persuasive abilities of the residents of King Cove, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) today welcomed further review by the Department of Interior (DOI) of a proposed road to serve the medical and other needs of the remote Alaska Peninsula community.
“I’ve joined with all members of Alaska’s congressional delegation in demanding the Obama administration give this sound road proposal a thorough review,” Begich said. “The residents of King Cove did an excellent job convincing Secretary Salazar to take a second look when they met recently and they deserve credit for persuading Secretary Salazar to keep the road issue open.”
Begich said a directive issued today by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar should help persuade Salazar’s successor that the 25-mile road connecting King Cove and the Cold Bay airport makes sense. Salazar today directed the department’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs to visit King Cove to meet with local residents and said he would not issue a decision denying construction of the road before he leaves office in the next two weeks.
Begich’s sent a letter yesterday asking Jewell to visit King Cove on her first trip to Alaska. The Interior Department agreed today to hold an official meeting with Jewell in King Cove to receive additional information on the medical evacuation benefits of the proposed road directly from the community.
Praising Begich’s work on bringing the King Cove issue to the Senate’s attention, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ron Wyden said, “I want to recognize the important role Senator Begich played in educating our caucus about this issue. Without his energetic efforts I don't believe we would have been able to move forward today, and we certainly would not have been able to ensure that those concerns were addressed.”
In recent weeks, Begich has written to both President Obama and Interior Secretary-nominee Sally Jewell urging that they seriously consider a road to meet the life-safety needs of King Cove. Late last month, Begich also met with Jewell to urge her to keep an open mind on the road proposal. Begich is meeting today in Washington with Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn to discuss the issue.
“In my mind, this is an environmental justice issue. Conserving our natural spaces is important, but we have to balance that with the safety needs of local residents,” Murkowski said. “King Cove has been clearly disadvantaged by a wildness designation that separates them from Cold Bay. The least we can do is to ensure they have the ability to reach an airport that can handle instrument approaches when weather makes travel by plane and boat all but impossible.”
Murkowski said she looks forward to working with the Interior Secretary to ensure the safety and dignity of the people of King Cove is upheld.
“Sally Jewell will have the privilege of going to King Cove and I will be right there with her. We'll have to find a time when the weather is best suited for travel – we may have to fly into Cold Bay and walk to King Cove,” Murkowski said.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden praised Murkowski’s work on negotiating an agreement with Secretary Salazar on the King Cove issue.
Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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