Interior Secretary Sally Jewell Listens to King Cove Residents’ Impassioned Pleas to Approve Safe, Reliable Transportation Access
August 30, 2013
King Cove, AK – Aug. 30, 2013 – U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell heard directly from King Cove residents about the region’s harsh weather conditions that often make air and sea travel dangerous, especially during medevacs. Jewell and Senator Lisa Murkowski met with Aleut and community leaders in King Cove during a day-long visit on August 30th. King Cove is seeking a single-lane gravel road (206 acres) through a portion of the Izembek Wildlife National Refuge to the all-weather airport in Cold Bay. A land exchange that would transfer more than 56,000 acres of state and tribal land to the refuge has been approved by Congress, but it still needs the signature of Secretary Jewell. “I’m so grateful that you’re here, and I just pray that you will make the right decision in regard to this access project,” Aleutians East Borough Mayor Stanley Mack told Jewell during the community meeting. King Cove, which is accessible only by sea or air, is often plagued with gale-force winds and heavy fog that make flying in the mountainous terrain treacherous and sometimes impossible. Patients needing medical care beyond the capabilities of the local health clinic must sometimes wait hours, even days, before they can be transported by boat or flown to Cold Bay, and then to an Anchorage hospital, 600 miles away. “We don’t have an option to leave all the time,” King Cove resident Amy Mack told Jewell. “It’s sad that we’re begging for our lives when we have access rights over there (Cold Bay).” Nearby Cold Bay has the state’s third longest public runway, built by the U.S. Military during World War II and used as a refueling station for fighters through the Vietnam conflict. Cold Bay is 22 miles from King Cove. Unfortunately, when the federal government created the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge 53 years ago, it cut off the traditional land route between the two communities, without ever consulting the people of King Cove. “I have 22 grandchildren growing up here,” said King Cove resident Seward Brandell. “I hope they don’t have to go through what I went through.” Several years ago, Brandell was medevaced on a three-hour fishing boat ride during high winds and rough seas. As he struggled to breathe, his sons helped him ascend a 20-foot ladder to the Cold Bay dock. He was then medevaced to an Anchorage hospital where he was diagnosed with double pneumonia. “I am tired of seeing my elders and other people die because we don’t have reliable transportation access,” said 15 year-old King Cove resident Dustin Newman, who almost lost his grandmother during a medevac. Jewell also visited the community’s school and clinic where she heard from nurse practitioner Cameron Spivey, who spent three years working at the King Cove Clinic. Spivey described an emotional experience from 2011 struggling to keep alive a five month-old baby with a serious respiratory infection without the aid of a respirator. “The baby was starting to get worse, despite everything we were doing for her,” Spivey said. “I was genuinely starting to get worried. It was very stressful.”The weather was so bad that the U.S. Coast Guard was the only hope of evacuating the baby. The 70-mile hour winds kept the Guard helicopter from landing in King Cove for eight hours. All the while, Spivey used a hand-operated respirator to keep the child breathing. “The baby made it and is a healthy little girl now,” she said. “But we’ll probably never know how close things got. It’s just one of those things I’ll never forget. If we had a road and could have put her in an ambulance, she would have gotten there a lot faster.” “I am grateful that Secretary Jewell accepted my request to come to King Cove and hear directly from the people whose lives have been put at risk,” Senator Murkowski said. “The federal government has a responsibility to make sure the people of King Cove have adequate access to medical treatment. There is a simple remedy that will restore access: Congress has approved it and now it’s up to Secretary Jewell.” Secretary Jewell told residents she needs to understand all of the facts before making a decision. “My job is full of difficult decisions,” Jewell said. “Sometimes, government regulations don’t make the course of action easy, and that’s what I’m facing in this decision. I need to study all of these things and go over all of the material before I make a decision. You have my commitment that I take this seriously, and I’ve listened very carefully to what you’ve said.” It’s unclear at this point when Secretary Jewell will make her decision on the road corridor and land exchange. However, King Cove tribal and community leaders are hopeful it will happen soon — before another resident’s life is endangered. Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn visited King Cove at the end of June to look at the medical need for the road and whether the Interior Department has upheld its trust responsibilities to the Alaska Natives in the community. Washburn still has to report the findings of his trip to Secretary Jewell. For more information, visit http://www.izembekenhancement.org/ , http://www.kingcoveview.com/ and http://www.aleutianseast.org/ .