King Cove Residents Outraged that Interior Secretary Jewell Denies Land Exchange/Road Access to Cold Bay Airport

December 23, 2013

King Cove, AK – Dec. 23, 2013 – King Cove city and tribal leaders expressed indignation following Secretary Sally Jewell’s decision to deny a land exchange that would have granted  them access to a small life-saving road corridor (206 acres) through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to the nearby all-weather Cold Bay Airport. Jewell announced her decision today after several months of determining how to balance the needs of conservation with the health and safety needs of local residents. “We are shocked that Secretary Jewell has made this dangerous, wrong-headed decision,” said Della Trumble, spokeswoman for Agdaagux Tribal Council and the King Cove (Native) Corporation. We are very insulted that our health, safety and quality of life simply do not matter to her. Clearly, the Secretary’s trust responsibility to the Native people is very subjective and, is in fact, meaningless.” King Cove residents have been fighting for decades for a single-lane gravel road corridor that would provide safe access to Cold Bay’s airport, located just 22 miles away. When the federal government first created the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge more than three decades ago, it cut off the traditional land route between the Aleut community of King Cove and the old World War II outpost of Cold Bay. Community residents were never consulted.  Because of that decision, King Cove is accessible only by sea or air. The remote community is often plagued by gale-force winds and thick fog, creating stormy, dangerous travel conditions, especially during medevacs. “The lives of our people, our elders, children and grandchildren are at stake over this issue,” said Aleutians East Borough Mayor Stanley Mack. “Are birds really more important than people? It seems so hard to believe that the federal government finds it impossible to accommodate both wildlife and human beings. Is the Obama Administration turning its back on Native Americans?” Over the years, more than a dozen people have died, either in plane crashes or because they couldn’t get treatment in a timely manner. King Cove has a clinic, but no hospital or doctor. Residents must fly 600 miles to Anchorage, via Cold Bay, for most medical procedures, including serious trauma cases and childbirth.    “Secretary Jewell listened to heartfelt, emotional stories of difficult medevacs when she visited King Cove last summer,” Trumble added. “But the decision to turn down the land exchange and road corridor access makes a mockery of the President’s recent Executive Order establishing the White House Council on Native American Affairs.” Sec. Jewell and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski traveled to King Cove On Aug. 30, 2013 to visit with residents. They also flew over the Izembek Refuge to see where the road corridor would connect with the existing road system built during World War II. As part of the deal, Congress and President Obama approved a land swap that would have transferred more than 56,000 of pristine state and Alaska Native land to the refuge in exchange for access to a single-lane gravel road corridor. Following an environmental impact statement, the decision was left up to the Interior Secretary to determine whether it was in the public interest. “The federal government’s decision is devastating,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack. “But it isn’t over. We will never give up until we get the road to protect the lives, health and safety of our people. This is too important. We simply have to find a way to turn this around.”

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