King Cove Optimistic President-elect Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Nominee Ryan Zinke Will Get Community their Life-Saving Road
December 23, 2016
King Cove, AK – Today marks the three-year anniversary since U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected a life-saving road from remote King Cove, Alaska to the all-weather airport in nearby Cold Bay. Since that time, there have been 55 medevacs from the community, which is often plagued by hurricane-force winds, stormy weather and dense fog. As disappointing as Secretary Jewell’s decision was, today King Cove leaders and residents are feeling very hopeful that President-elect Donald Trump and U.S. Interior Secretary Nominee, Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana, will get the job done.
“Unlike Secretary Jewell, we believe President-elect Donald Trump and Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke value human lives as well as birds,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack. “We are confident they will take action because they understand that the lives of King Cove residents matter. We’re encouraged that we may finally get access to a small life-saving road corridor, and our dream of safe passage to the Cold Bay airport will become a reality.”
Recently, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski reported that she’s encouraged by her talks with Zinke relating to the King Cove road, stating that she believes he is “very favorably inclined to be supportive.” Her enthusiasm boosted the spirits of King Cove community members and tribal leaders who have campaigned for a safe and reliable road connection through the Izembek Wildlife Refuge to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport for 35-plus years.
“We are optimistic that a change of administration will mean we will finally get to the finish line,” said Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the King Cove (Native) Corporation. “This issue is and always has been about saving lives. Without a dependable and safe solution, it’s only a matter of time before someone loses his or her life. It’s time to do the right thing and solve this urgent matter once and for all.”
“Our weather can be very severe,” said Aleutians East Borough Mayor Stanley Mack. “Medical emergencies in King Cove happen in all kinds of weather. A road connection has been proven to be the most reliable and safest option for us. We’re feeling very encouraged that the incoming administration will make it happen.”
So far this year, there have been 17 medevacs: three were conducted by the Coast Guard; 14 were non-Coast Guard. Of the 55 medevacs that occurred since Secretary Jewell rejected the road, 17 were conducted by the Coast Guard. Thirty-eight of the medevacs were non-Coast Guard. Those medevacs included:
- A King Cove woman in her 70s who was treated for a hip fracture. Due to poor weather, Guardian Flight was unable to come into King Cove. The patient was stabilized at the King Cove Clinic. She waited 40 hours until the weather improved to be medevaced to Anchorage by Guardian.
- A woman in her 70s suffering from heart issues was medevaced from King Cove to Cold Bay by the Coast Guard after high winds prevented Guardian Flight from coming in. She was then transferred to a Guardian Flight plane in Cold Bay and medevaced to Anchorage more than seven hours later.
- A woman in her 20s was treated at the King Cove Clinic for a severely obstructed airway. Due to fog and low visibility, Guardian Flight was unable to land in King Cove. The patient was stabilized. Meanwhile, a Coast Guard helicopter from a cutter in the Bering Sea was dispatched and arrived about 7 ½ hours later. The patient was transported to Cold Bay and transferred to Guardian Flight. Guardian then transported the patient to Anchorage.
- A four-week old infant boy suffering from respiratory distress was medevaced by the Coast Guard during blizzard conditions. The baby was transported to an Anchorage hospital and diagnosed with RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus).
The people of King Cove have worked for more than three decades to build a life-saving road corridor linking their isolated community to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport, 25 miles away. The small stretch of road (approximately 11 miles) would connect to existing roads in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and would provide reliable and safe ground transportation to medevac seriously ill or injured patients when travel by plane or boat is too dangerous due to the area’s frequent periods of harsh weather.
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, 206-acre, single-lane gravel road corridor. However, the deal was blocked by U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who issued an order rejecting the road and land exchange just two days before Christmas in 2013.
On June 4, 2014, King Cove tribes, the corporation, the city and the Aleutians East Borough (the King Cove Group) sued Secretary Jewell and other federal officials over the rejection of the road. In June 2015, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies approved legislative language by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, directing the Interior Department to do an equal-value land transfer to allow the construction of the connector road. Unfortunately, the language was not included in the final year-end budget deal.
On Sept. 8, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Holland ruled against the King Cove Group and determined there was no violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act (OPLMA). The judge acknowledged that Secretary Jewell based her decision solely on the environmental impacts of the road and ignored the public health and safety impacts. That decision is currently under appeal by the State and the King Cove Group before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In July 2016, Senators Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young introduced identical bills (S. 3204 and H.R. 5777) in both chambers of Congress which mandates an equal value land transfer in exchange for construction of a short, single-lane, non-commercial road linking remote King Cove to the nearby all-weather Cold Bay airport.