D.C. Indian Affairs Official to Get First-Hand Look at King Cove’s Transportation Access Issue

June 24, 2013

Recent Transportation Survey Underscores

Need for Road Corridor

King Cove, AK – June 24, 2013 – Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn will get an up-close view of the proposed King Cove road and land exchange next week, weather-permitting. Washburn plans to travel to the eastern Aleutians on June 27th to conduct government-to-government and public meetings. He will also hear why King Cove residents believe the proposed road corridor is the only way to solve the community’s transportation access problem.

“We are so grateful that the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs will be visiting King Cove,” said Della Trumble, spokesperson for the Agdaagux Tribal Council and the King Cove (Native) Corporation. “It is crucial that the Department of the Interior take the human factor into consideration, which it has not done up until now. That was the most critical missing piece to the puzzle when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expressed its opposition to the road in its final environmental impact statement (EIS) earlier this year.”

“The health and safety of King Cove residents are at the heart of this matter,” said Jim Kenezuroff, president of the Native Village of  Belkofski. “We would like Washburn to meet with the people of our community and listen to them talk about the ordeals they’ve experienced, which for some, included losing loved ones. It’s imperative he understands why a road is the only viable and practical solution to our transportation access problem.”

It has been well-documented through personal diaries, testimonies, anecdotal information and miscellaneous data that if you live or work in King Cove, you can expect to access the Cold Bay Airport about 60 – 70% of the time as a “normal” travel expectation. King Cove residents describe normal as being able to travel within a few hours of expected flight times (both arrivals and departures) with reasonable flying conditions, including factors such as daylight, visibility, turbulence and rain/snow/fog. 

Another contemporary measure of these widely-known travel constraints was conducted last fall by Solstice Alaska Consulting, Inc. Solstice used a statistically-valid sample size in conducting household interviews to document these trends and concerns. Surveyed households in King Cove indicated that 61% of their travel was for health and medical reasons. Seventy-eight percent reported having a family member who experienced significant stress at the thought of flying between King Cove and Cold Bay, and 58% have had a family member who couldn’t getout of town when they needed to during a medical emergency.  Sixty-nine percent report they’ve experienced significant travel delays 50% of the time. Almost every resident interviewed expressed the fear that they wouldn’t be able to get to Cold Bay during a health crisis. King Cove, which is accessible only by small plane or boat, is surrounded by mountains and is well-known to be treacherous in bad weather, which occurs throughout the year. Flights are delayed or cancelled about 30 to 40 percent of the time due to high winds or dense fog. The King Cove Transportation Survey is available on the Aleutians East Borough website:

“It’s clear that a road would provide the only safe, reliable transportation to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack who is also a member of the Agdaagux Tribal Council. “It will give our residents the peace of mind they deserve – something many people in the Lower 48 take for granted.”

Washburn’s trip is the direct result of community officials and residents meeting with former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and discussions between Senators Murkowski and Begich and Secretary Salazar. These discussions prompted Salazar to task Washburn to visit King Cove to “assess the medical evacuation benefits from the proposed road” and collect information regarding “whether and to what extent the road is needed to meet the medical emergency requirements of King Cove”. Washburn’s report will then be provided to the new Secretary, Sally Jewell, as additional information in preparation for her visit to King Cove in August.

“It’s so important that the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs and the Interior Secretary visit King Cove to get a first-hand look and truly understand the issues that affect this community,” said Aleutians East Borough (AEB) Mayor Stanley Mack, a member of the Qagan Tayagungin Tribe. “It is the key to making the right decision.” 

Washburn will begin his trip visiting with Cold Bay Mayor Jorge Lopez and other local officials. From there, he will visit the Cold Bay Clinic to discuss the role it provides in supporting medivacs out of King Cove. This will be followed by land and air tours to view some of the lands in the proposed Izembek land exchange. He will also experience a portion of the more than 40-miles of existing roads in the refuge. A special focus will be showing Washburn where the proposed one-land gravel road would connect to the existing refuge road system.

Several years ago, former U.S. Fish & Wildlife Director Dale Hall praised the wilderness values of the lands proposed for exchange by the State of Alaska and the King Cove (Native) Corporation and said their value “was significant.” He noted that it contains large areas of tundra swan nesting as well as prime brown bear and caribou habitat, including bear denning areas.

“This pristine, valuable land is what Assistant Secretary Washburn will also see,” said AEB Mayor Stanley Mack. “Unfortunately, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service neglected to take these lands into consideration during its recent environmental impact statement. We’re optimistic that this time, the process will be conducted fairly. We’re certain Washburn will look at this land offer with new eyes and will listen to residents’ heartfelt stories of hardship with new ears.”

After Washburn’s tour of the Izembek area, he will fly into King Cove and tour the City as well as visit King Cove’s clinic. Later, he will hold government-to-government meetings followed by a community meeting at the King Cove Community Center. Washburn will depart King Cove via a fishing vessel to Cold Bay, weather-permitting, on the following morning (June 29th). He will disembark at the often perilous Cold Bay dock where fishing boat medivacs occur, including a climb up a 25-foot ladder above the often nearly freezing Cold Bay.

 “I’m confident the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs will have a new mindset after getting a first-hand look at King Cove and visiting with our residents,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack. “A balance has to be struck between protecting human life and the surrounding wildlife.”

“Our Aleut (Native) ancestors were successful in living in harmony with the natural environment for thousands of years. I’m sure the Assistant Secretary will agree that we can continue that tradition,” said Trumble. “A small, single-lane gravel road won’t change the respect our people have always had for the land that has sustained us. This land has been a significant part of our past, and it will always be an important part of our future.”  


If the Interior Department does approve the land exchange and road construction, the federal government would 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.