King Cove Residents to Meet with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
February 27, 2013
Washington, D.C. – Feb. 27, 2013 – A group of King Cove, Alaska tribal members, residents and children are scheduled to meet with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar tomorrow morning, hoping to persuade him to approve the Congressionally-approved Izembek land exchange to allow construction of a single-lane gravel road leading from their isolated Aleut community to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport. The group is coming armed with letters from the Alaska House of Representatives and the Senate, urging Secretary Salazar to make human lives a top priority. The group is also carrying petitions from the residents of King Cove and from schoolchildren, pleading with him to consider their plight.
“We’re hopeful the Secretary will do the right thing for the indigenous people of King Cove, and find that the land exchange and road are in the public interest,” said Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the King Cove (Native) Corporation and the Agdaagux Tribal Council of King Cove. “Although the Black Brandt and the tundra swan are important bird species, we would like to believe that Secretary Salazar will have compassion and agree that human lives have just as much significance. This land exchange will improve habitat for these and other species. It’s so important to have this road access, not only during medical emergencies, but also to improve the quality of life for our 950 residents. Everybody wins here.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that it recommended the “no action” alternative rather than a Congressionally-approved land exchange and single-lane road corridor that would traverse a small section of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The USFWS recommendation was made during the environmental impact statement (EIS) of the land exchange and proposed road corridor. King Cove leaders and residents were outraged with the recommendation. They felt that the USFWS refused to listen to them throughout the process and was biased against them.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t take into consideration the human lives that are at stake without this critical land transportation access,” said Aleutians East Borough and Alaska Native Mayor Stanley Mack. “We deserve consideration in this crucial matter. Secretary Salazar has a trust responsibility to the Aleut (indigenous) people. We have been excellent stewards of the land for thousands of years. We will continue to protect the environment and the wildlife if the Secretary approves the road corridor construction.”
Tribal members and community leaders are glad to finally have this face-to-face meeting with Secretary Salazar. They have requested a meeting with the Secretary on eight different occasions during the past four years. On seven of those, they were turned down.
“Whatever decision the Secretary makes, he needs to look into the eyes of the residents and the children whose lives he will directly impact,” said Trumble. “He needs to hear their heartfelt stories of losing or almost losing loved ones because stormy weather prevented planes or boats from completing timely medevacs. We’re here to see that justice is done.”
If the Secretary does approve the road construction, in exchange, 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 single-lane gravel road. The State of Alaska would also receive 1,600 acres from the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge on Sitkinak Island south of Kodiak.
“No matter what happens, we’re not giving up,” said Aleutians East Borough Mayor Mack. “The federal government left the Aleut people out of the process decades ago when it designated Izembek as wilderness. Then the Fish and Wildlife Service burned our subsistence cabins, putting our lives in danger. Up until now, it has ignored its trust responsibility to the Aleut people. The Secretary needs to make sure this wrong is corrected so we can have peace of mind knowing our loved ones can get the medical help they need when they’re sick or injured. It’s time to do right by the people of King Cove.”