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Federal Court’s Ruling on Crucial King Cove Land Exchange Disappointing



March 29, 2019
Friday PM

(SitNews) - The U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska released a ruling today that sets aside and vacates a small land exchange between the Department of the Interior and the King Cove Corporation.

For decades, residents of King Cove – a 1,000-person community on the edge of the Alaska Peninsula – have been fighting to build a road to nearby Cold Bay. Because there is no road, King Cove residents needing medical evacuations often go without care due to bad weather, or they face treacherous rides on boats or small planes.

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“While it is disappointing that the federal court found process flaws in DOI’s explanation of the agreement, the King Cove Group will never give up our fight for this land exchange. It is so crucial for safeguarding the lives of our families,” said Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the King Cove Corporation. “This access is truly a matter of life and death for us.”   

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources said in a prepared statement, “This is a disappointing case and a disappointing ruling."

Murkowski said. “There have been nearly 100 medevacs in King Cove – many carried out by the Coast Guard – since 2014 alone. There is no question that the people who live there need a single-lane, gravel, non-commercial road to protect their health and safety. I will never stop until this road is a reality and the nearly 1,000 residents of this isolated community have a lifeline for emergency medical care.” 

Alaska House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham) also released a statement today on the U.S. District Court’s decision to block progress on a road connecting King Cove and Cold Bay. In his prepared statement Edgmon said, “The people of King Cove deserve reliable access to healthcare, and the fight to build a simple gravel road affording them that basic right has taken far too long. Today’s U.S. Superior Court decision to invalidate the plan to allow a land exchange between the Interior Department and King Cove Corporation is disappointing and presents an unnecessary setback.”

The land exchange agreement was signed a year ago by then-U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the King Cove Corporation, which is comprised of members from two local federally-recognized Aleut tribes. The agreement began a process of identifying land of equal value needed for a life-saving single lane, restricted-access gravel road between the remote and mostly Aleut (Alaska Native) community of King Cove and the nearby all-weather airport in Cold Bay. The Cold Bay Airport, with its paved 10,0000-foot-long main runway, located just 25 miles away, is the state’s fifth longest public runway. The agreement would have reestablished the traditional land link between King Cove and Cold Bay. 

About a week after the agreement was signed, national environmental groups sued the Secretary and the Interior Department. The Aleutians East Borough, the King Cove Corporation, the City of King Cove, the Agdaagux Tribe, the Native Village of Belkofski and the City of Cold Bay joined a lawsuit in March 2018 to defend the land exchange agreement supporting the Interior Department. 

“The people of King Cove deserve to have access to a higher level of care, especially when the unforgiving weather prevents them from traveling from their isolated community by air or boat,” said Aleutians East Borough Mayor Alvin D. Osterback. “This land exchange would have accomplished that.” 

“For years, we’ve been on an emotional roller coaster while we have strived to gain federal approval for this land exchange and road,” said Trumble. “Today’s federal court ruling is disheartening, but we still dream of a day when future generations will no longer have to agonize about their loved ones when an emergency medical evacuation occurs during harsh weather. We will study this decision carefully and will consult with the State and the Department of Interior to determine our next steps to obtain our desperately needed life-saving road.” 

The indigenous Aleut people of King Cove have sought to secure federal approval of a road corridor to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport for more than three decades. The isolated community has no hospital and no doctor. The community’s clinic must call for an air ambulance or the Coast Guard when patients are suffering from traumatic injuries, serious heart or respiratory problems. There have been 18 deaths since 1980, either from plane crashes or the inability to receive timely medical treatment.  The community is frequently plagued by hurricane-force winds, stormy weather and dense fog, which grounds or delays plane travel at least 30 percent of the time. A small stretch of road, approximately 12 miles long, is needed to link King Cove to the existing road system within the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. 

“We are saddened that the court found process flaws in the land exchange,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack,” I know what it’s like to worry about family members getting the care they need when a severe storm delays them from being medevaced to Anchorage, 650 miles away. We will not let this latest development dampen our resolve. Our community deserves to have safe and dependable access to medical care in an emergency just like the rest of the United States.”

On the Web:

U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska's ruling that sets aside and vacates a small land exchange between the Department of the Interior and the King Cove Corporation. - Opinion from U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason. PDF


Editing by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


Source of News:

Aleutians East Borough 

King Cove Corporation

Office of US Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Alaska House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham)


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