King Cove Tribal and Community Leaders Disappointed with Judge Holland’s Decision on Road
September 8, 2015
King Cove, AK – King Cove tribal and community leaders vow not to give up on a small gravel road linking the remote community to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport despite U.S. District Court Judge Holland’s ruling today. This morning, U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland denied the plaintiffs’ (the King Cove Group’s) motion for summary judgment and determined there was no violation of NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) or of the OPLMA (Omnibus Public Lands Management Act).
The King Cove Group issued the following statement:
While the King Cove Group is disappointed with the District Court decision, we always knew this would be difficult. We are studying the decision and will consult with our partner in this case, the State of Alaska, before reaching any decision in our next steps in court. Our efforts to obtain legislative relief remain unabated.
In Judge Holland’s decision, he acknowledged that U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made a decision based on the environmental impacts of the road and ignored the human safety issue. “Given the sensitive nature of the portion of the Izembek Wildlife Refuge which the road would cross, the NEPA requirement for approval of the proposed road probably doomed the project,” Judge Holland wrote. “Under NEPA, the Secretary evaluated environmental impacts, not public health and safety impacts. Perhaps Congress will now think better of its decision to encumber the King Cove road project with a NEPA requirement.”
Since Secretary Jewell denied the road on Dec. 23, 2013, there have been 32 medevacs. Of those, 10 involved the Coast Guard and 22 were non-Coast Guard medevacs.
“As long as we continue to have medevacs that endanger the lives of King Cove residents, we will continue to fight for a road,” said Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the King Cove (Native) Corporation.
The people of King Cove have battled for more than three decades to get a life-saving road corridor linking the isolated community to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport, located just 25 miles away. The small stretch of road needed (approximately 11 miles) would connect to existing roads in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The road would provide reliable and safe transportation to medevac seriously ill or injured patients during frequent periods of harsh weather when travel by plane or boat is too dangerous.
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 to the nearby all-weather Cold Bay Airport. Following an environmental impact statement, which King Cove residents believe was biased, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected the road and land exchange just two days before Christmas 2013. On June 4, 2014, King Cove tribes, the corporation, the city and the Aleutians East Borough sued Jewell and other federal officials over the EIS and the road issue. 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 a connector road.