Interior Department Issues Permit for Survey Work on King Cove Road
June 26, 2017
“Secretary Ryan Zinke called this morning to let me know the Interior Department has granted the State permission to begin looking at the least impactful route between King Cove and Cold Bay,” Governor Walker said.
Walker said, “For far too long, King Cove residents suffering from medical emergencies have had to brave harsh elements just to get health care. They travel by boat or helicopter—often in inclement weather—to access the Cold Bay airport in order to be medevaced out. Our fellow Alaskans deserve better than that."
Walker said, " I’m grateful to Secretary Zinke for recognizing that need and doing his best to advance the process to build that life-saving road. Secretary Zinke is a great partner in our efforts to building a Safer Alaska.”
Quoting a news release from the Governor, the Alaska Department of Transportation survey will carefully identify the least impactful route, based on the environmental review completed in 2013. Survey work is expected to be completed by mid-July.
December 23, 2016, marked the three-year anniversary since former U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell of the Obama administration rejected a life-saving road from remote King Cove, Alaska to the all-weather airport in nearby Cold Bay. Since that time, there have been 55 medevacs from the community, which is often plagued by hurricane-force winds, stormy weather and dense fog.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the decision to reject the proposal for the emergency medical evacuation road two days before Christmas in 2013, inviting comparisons to the Grinch and Scrooge. As disappointing as former Secretary Jewell’s decision was, King Cove leaders and residents were feeling very hopeful that President Donald Trump and U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke would get the job done.
In July 2014, the state and King Cove plaintiffs asked the federal court to order the U.S. Interior Department to reverse its decision regarding the connector road and land exchange between the remote community and the all-weather Cold Bay airport. In September 2015, U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland denied the plaintiffs’ (the King Cove Group’s) motion for summary judgment and determined there was no violation of NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) or of the OPLMA (Omnibus Public Lands Management Act).
In Judge Holland’s decision, he acknowledged that U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made a decision based on the environmental impacts of the road and ignored the human safety issue. “Given the sensitive nature of the portion of the Izembek Wildlife Refuge which the road would cross, the NEPA requirement for approval of the proposed road probably doomed the project,” Judge Holland wrote. “Under NEPA, the Secretary evaluated environmental impacts, not public health and safety impacts. Perhaps Congress will now think better of its decision to encumber the King Cove road project with a NEPA requirement.”
The people of King Cove have worked for more than three decades to build a life-saving road corridor linking their isolated community to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport, 25 miles away. The small stretch of road (approximately 11 miles) would connect to existing roads in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and would provide reliable and safe ground transportation to medevac seriously ill or injured patients when travel by plane or boat is too dangerous due to the area’s frequent periods of harsh weather.
In the proposed land exchange and road construction, the federal government would have 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.
Reporting & Editing by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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