Alaska Tribes to Sec. Jewell: Your Letter and Actions Regarding King Cove Road Issue Are Both Shocking and Troubling
August 28, 2014
King Cove, AK – Aug. 28, 2014 – King Cove tribes and community leaders told U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a letter yesterday (in response to her letter of Aug. 13th) that her delayed answer regarding the longstanding King Cove road issue raises serious concerns on several levels.
“Respectfully, your invitation [to engage in discussions] and assertions that the current litigation prevents you from resolving the transportation problem in King Cove… are difficult to take seriously,” the letter stated.
In the correspondence, the King Cove Group points out that it has taken Secretary Jewell seven months to answer a Jan. 15, 2014 KCG letter requesting reconsideration of her Dec. 23, 2013 decision in which she denied a small road corridor and massive land exchange. The road corridor would have connected the remote community of King Cove to the nearby all-weather Cold Bay Airport for health, safety and quality of life purposes.
Since Jewell’s rejection of the road, the King Cove clinic has dealt with 13 medevacs this year from King Cove to Anchorage, via the Cold Bay Airport. Five of those medevacs were conducted by the Coast Guard and one was handled by a coastal freighter during stormy weather conditions, putting the lives of patients and rescue personnel at risk.
“How can Secretary Jewell use our current lawsuit as an excuse to sit on her hands instead of resolving this issue?” King Cove Mayor Henry Mack asked. “This is a critical matter of life and death for us.”
The letter from the King Cove Group further describes how Jewell refused to answer Senator Lisa Murkowski’s questions about the impact of her decision on King Cove residents during a Senate Interior Appropriations Committee hearing last March.
“You have yet to address or attempt to rebut the reasons given by the King Cove Group in its April 15th letter explaining why there is no reasonable alternative to a road through the Izembek Refuge to protect the health and well-being of the residents of King Cove,” the letter explained.
The letter also states that these points aren’t even the worst or the most troubling of her actions regarding King Cove.
“We are shocked by the claim in her litigation response to the King Cove Group and the State that the Department (of the Interior) owes no specific trust responsibility for the health and well-being of Alaska Natives,” the letter continued.
“That is truly the most appalling of the claims made in the litigation Secretary Jewell and other federal officials made in their recent motions,” said Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the Agdaagux Tribe and the King Cove (Native) Corporation.
“It is shameful, especially when her predecessor, former secretary Ken Salazar stated that Indian Health Service has the solemn responsibility to honor the federal trust responsibility to provide health care,” Trumble said. “It’s even more outrageous when you consider that last week Aug. 20th), Secretary Jewell issued an order affirming American Indian trust responsibilities as part of President Obama’s commitment to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with tribal nations. Apparently, this doesn’t apply to Alaska Natives, and especially not to those in King Cove.”
“Your determination… that a landing craft carrying an ambulance and traversing 14 miles of open ocean in high winds and waves is an adequate substitute for a road for evacuating seriously ill patients from King Cove to the Cold Bay Airport is insensitive and ludicrous on its face,” the letter states.
The letter ends by stating that the King Cove Group believes, for these reasons, there is no other option but to resolve this matter with the department in federal court.
The people of King Cove have campaigned for more than three decades to get a life-saving road corridor linking the isolated community to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport, located just 25 miles away. The small stretch of road needed (11 miles) would connect to existing roads in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The road would have provided reliable, safe and affordable transportation to medevac seriously ill or injured patients during frequent periods of harsh weather when travel by plane or boat is too dangerous.
In 2009, Congress and the President approved the road and a massive land swap (61,000 acres from the State and the King Cove Corporation) in exchange for a small single-lane gravel road corridor (206 acres) to the nearby all-weather Cold Bay Airport. Following an environmental impact statement, which King Cove residents believe is biased, Jewell rejected the road and land exchange just two days before Christmas last year. On June 4, 2014, King Cove tribes, the corporation, the city and the Aleutians East Borough sued Jewell and other federal officials over the EIS and the road issue.