Governor Parnell To Sign Izembek Land Exchange Bill This Week
August 16, 2010
Anchorage, AK – Aug. 16, 2010 – Governor Sean Parnell plans to sign the Izembek Land Exchange Bill (HB210) this week (Aug. 19, 2010) at his Anchorage office.
This critical legislation is another major step forward in the process. Pending approval by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, a small single-lane gravel road corridor (206 acres) would be built from the remote community of King Cove to the all-weather airport in Cold Bay. That corridor would provide residents with a critical link between King Cove and the outside world for health, safety and quality-of-life reasons. In exchange for the road corridor, the State of Alaska and the King Cove Corporation would donate 61,000 acres to the federal government. More than 45,000 acres would go into wilderness status.
“This is a very exciting day,” said Della Trumble, representing the King Cove Corporation and the Agdaagux Tribe. “We are very thankful that the State of Alaska has supported us so staunchly throughout this process. If the U.S. Interior Secretary approves this exchange, residents will have the peace of mind of knowing they can travel safely from King Cove to the Cold Bay airport and then to the outside world.”
“The City of King Cove is very grateful to Governor Parnell and to the legislature for approving this important bill,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack. “The huge amount of pristine land provided by the State of Alaska and the King Cove Corporation in exchange for a small road corridor is unprecedented. The road corridor from King Cove to the Cold Bay Airport would be a life-saving link for our residents and would dramatically improve our quality of life. Having dependable and safe access is crucial.”
During the bill signing ceremony, Governor Parnell was flanked by lawmakers who co-sponsored the legislation from both the federal and state government. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R – Alaska) and Alaska Rep. Bryce Edgmon played a major role in drafting legislation and getting it passed in the state legislature and the U.S. Congress.
“I’m proud to have played a role in helping King Cove move forward on what has been a number-one safety priority for the community for more than 20 years,” said Alaska’s Rep. Bryce Edgmon. “The legislation unanimously passed in the House and Senate, which should send a strong message to the Department of Interior and others that the State of Alaska solidly supports this road.”
House Bill 210 passed the Alaska Legislature in April 2010. This bill completes the state’s role in the agreement and allows the land exchange to occur, pending the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service conducted scoping meetings in Washington, D.C., Anchorage, Sand Point, Nelson Lagoon, Cold Bay, False Pass and King Cove last spring so the public could weigh in. The final EIS is scheduled to be released on February 28, 2012. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior must determine that the land exchange and the road corridor are in the public interest before the project can move forward. The Secretary is scheduled to reveal his public interest finding on April 30, 2012.
“Today marks a major milestone,” said Aleutians East Borough Mayor Stanley Mack. “We’re thankful to have the unwavering support of Governor Parnell and Alaska’s legislature. We’re hopeful that soon Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will find that the land exchange and road corridor are in the public interest.”
Background Info: Proposed
Land Exchange and Road Corridor
A proposed road corridor from King Cove to the Cold Bay Airport has been a priority for King Cove residents for decades. For tribal and community members, getting an access road would provide a critical link to the outside world. Many people have lost their lives while others have had their health negatively affected while trying to get to the airport in Cold Bay during poor weather. King Cove residents want the access road so they will have reliable and safe transportation to and from the Cold Bay airport.
After President Obama signed the Public Lands Bill into law in 2009, the proposed road took a major step forward. The Izembek and Alaska Peninsula Refuge Enhancement Act (part of the Public Lands Bill) establishes a process to increase the size of the Izembek and Alaska Peninsula Wildlife Refuges by more than 61,000 acres in exchange for a small, gravel, single-lane road corridor (206 acres) leading from King Cove through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to the all-weather airport in Cold Bay. More than 45,000 acres would be designated as wilderness. This will be the first new wilderness designation in the State of Alaska since 1980.
Since August of 2007, the Aleutians East Borough has operated commercial hovercraft service between the City of King Cove and the City of Cold Bay. However, mechanical problems and poor weather have combined to keep the hovercraft out of service much more than was ever anticipated. Furthermore, the hovercraft is running at a net annual deficit of more than one million dollars.
Before a hovercraft was available in King Cove, transporting emergency medical patients from the City of King Cove to the City of Cold Bay during thick fog or storms was impossible. Flights from King Cove’s unpaved airstrip are delayed or canceled about 50% of the time. There are no roads connecting King Cove to the City of Cold Bay, where an all-weather airport is located. King Cove is often plagued by gale-force winds and dense fog. Sometimes Cold Bay (the body of water between the City of King Cove and the City of Cold Bay) has 15 – 20 foot seas in the winter.
In 1998, a land exchange bill was introduced in Congress, but environmentalists lobbied hard against it. As a compromise, Congress appropriated funding under the King Cove Health and Safety Act for improvements to the King Cove medical clinic and airport and to fund a marine transportation system link (the hovercraft) between the two cities. Even though the clinic that was built is state-of-the art, the small community is unable to attract doctors with the skill level needed to handle emergencies and life-threatening illnesses. A hovercraft was also purchased to ferry residents from King Cove to the Cold Bay airport. However, officials with the City of King Cove and the Aleutians East Borough say it’s now obvious that a road corridor connecting King Cove and Cold Bay is the only viable long-term solution.
The Aleut people have lived in this remote area of the Alaska Peninsula for more than 4,000 years. There are more than 14 miles of roads traversing the Izembek Wilderness and another 35 miles in the Izembek Refuge, dating back to World War II when thousands of GIs traveled extensively throughout the area. In 1980, the federal government designated a major portion of the land that lies between King Cove and Cold Bay as wilderness, without consulting with the local Native population. That action prohibited the construction of a road between the two communities. King Cove residents say it’s now time to fix that injustice. They’re hopeful the U.S. Secretary of the Interior will find that the road corridor is in the public interest.