The Interior Secretary Rejects the Izembek Road
Both of Alaska’s U.S. Senators have joined Governor Sean Parnell in denouncing Monday’s decision by the Interior Secretary to reject the proposed Izembek Road to connect King Cove and Cold Bay. The idea of allowing a land exchange to go forward to build a one lane gravel road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge was already turned down by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service back in February. That decision promoted such outrage that the Secretary of the Interior pledged to undertake a review of the decision. That review is over and the answer is still no. Secretary Sally Jewell, who even visited the area earlier this year, issued a decision Monday supporting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s preferred alternative, which excludes the land swap and thus the creation of the road. In a written statement Secretary Jewell stressed that building a road through the Izembek Refuge would cause irreversible damage not only to the Refuge itself, but to the wildlife that depend on it. At issue is the contention by many King Cove residents that they need road access to the all weather airport in Cold Bay for better access to medical and other emergency services that often are unavailable because the King Cove airport can’t always support incoming our outgoing aircraft. In her written statement, Secretary Jewell wrote that she understands the need for reliable methods of medical transport from King Cove, but she concluded that other methods of transport remain that could be improved to meet the community needs. Jewell then stressed that the Department of the Interior is committed to assisting in identifying and evaluating options that would improve access to transportation and health care. One of the efforts to improve transportation to and from King Cove was the use of a hovercraft that was in operation from 2007 to 2010. The Aleutians East Borough suspended use of the hovercraft in November of 2010. Alaska Governor Sean Parnell has long been a supporter of the proposed land exchange and shortly after Monday’ announcement he issued a statement expressing outrage at the Interior Secretary’s decision. He labeled the decision as unconscionable and pledged as Governor to fight for the residents of King Cove. Alaska’s Senior U.S Senator is also angry with the Interior Secretary’s decision. In a written statement Senator Lisa Murkowski characterized the decision as heartless and ill-informed. Senator Murkowski says she is still considering what steps she can take to protect the people of King Cove. The other Senator from Alaska is Mark Begich who was quick to issue a statement Monday lamenting that the Interior Department did not listen to Alaskans. He labeled the decision as disappointing but not surprising. Begich says once Congress gets back to work in January he will introduce legislation that if approved would direct the Federal Government to build the one lane road to connect King Cove and Cold Bay. Several stakeholders in the King Cove area are reacting angrily to the Interior Department’s decision. A spokeswomen from the King Cove Native Corporation, which would have been part of the land exchange, issued a statement noting that the Corporation is insulted that the health, safety and quality of life of the people of King Cove don’t matter. King Cove lies within the Aleutians East Borough and Mayor Stanley Mack issued a statement claiming that its hard to believe that the federal government finds it impossible to accommodate both wildlife and human beings. Perhaps the angriest response to Monday’s decision came from Congressman Don Young who called the decision the largest pile of horse manure ever delivered on Christmas. The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1960 and it includes over 315-thousand acres of designated wilderness.