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Gov. Parnell Joins Lawsuit for Izembek Road

Governor Sean Parnell announced Monday that the State of Alaska filed a motion to intervene in support of the Izembek Road.

US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell chose inaction for the Izembek road, which would connect King Cove to an all-weather airport in Cold Bay.  Assistant Attorney General for the State of Alaska Tom Lenhart says Governor Parnell’s office doesn’t believe the secretary is looking out for the state’s best interests.

“Of course it’s the state joining in with the plaintiff’s group out of King Cove that’s already filed suit, they filed about three weeks ago. What we’re challenging is the US congress and the Alaska legislature have both already passed legislation that authorized a land transfer with the specific purpose of building this road. That federal legislation was conditional in that it set forth a process that the secretary of the interior needed to work through in terms of looking at alternatives and doing environmental analysis of those alternatives.”

It’s been 189 days since Secretary Jewell rejected the land exchange.  It’s been 166 days since Senator Lisa Murkowski asked Jewell to reconsider. And it’s been 76 days since the residence of King Cove submitted a letter to Jewel requesting she reconsider her decision. 

The legislation that approved the land exchange would include the state and King Cove Corporation adding more than 50,000 acres of state and corporate land to the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in exchange for 206 acres of federal land that is necessary for the road.

King Cove is 25 miles away from Cold Bay.  There is currently one gravel road connecting the two communities, and it goes straight to the Cold Bay airport.  The concern is during the summer, a lot of planes are gone for the season and winter sometimes makes it difficult to take off from King Cove. 

Lenhart says the State of Alaska joined the lawsuit to encourage the secretary to change her mind. 

“This lawsuit is actually challenging the process that the secretary went through. We do not believe that the environmental process was done properly. That some things weren’t considered and that she reached a decision that’s not legally supportable. The whole need and purpose of the NEPA process was to build a road for the health and safety of those in King Cove and although she’s legally required to consider a no action alternative, we think clearly that no action does not meet the need of the health and safety of the residence.”

Lenhart says success in this case will be an invalidation of Secretary Jewell’s decision, having a judge remand it back to her to reconsider.  But that process could take months.