Recent Medevacs Underscore Need for Road from King Cove to Cold Bay Airport

February 11, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011 at 2:20 PM

King Cove, AK – Feb. 11, 2011 – City and tribal leaders say three challenging medevacs recently, including one today,  from the remote City of King Cove, emphasize the critical need for the proposed road corridor linking the City to the Cold Bay Airport. King Cove community leaders say the small gravel road would provide residents with safe and reliable transportation to the airport and the outside world for health and quality-of-life reasons. 

This afternoon, a Coast Guard helicopter medevaced a 73-year-year old King Cove woman suffering from chest pains. She was transported to Cold Bay where she was transferred to a life flight and then taken to an Anchorage hospital. This was the third medevac from King Cove during the past week.
During the evening of Feb. 4, 2011, the King Cove medical clinic requested a medevac for an 80-year-old King Cove woman suffering from severe chest pains. The crew flew more than 300 miles from St. Paul Island, where the Coast Guard’s MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter is temporarily assigned during the winter fishing season in the Bering Sea. However, snow and zero visibility prevented the Coast Guard from landing safely in King Cove, so the crew diverted to Cold Bay to wait for better weather conditions. The following morning, nearly 17 hours later, the patient was medevaced from King Cove to Anchorage.

Two days later, the Coast Guard’s helicopter crew medevaced a 63-year-old King Cove resident suffering from abdominal pain to an Anchorage hospital approximately six hours after help was requested. The crew encountered high winds, rain and low clouds during the medevac.  

King Cove is located on the south side of the Alaska Peninsula in the midst of a storm corridor, which often brings dense fog and gale-force winds. The community of 914 predominantly Aleut residents  is accessible only by aircraft or boat. However, flights from King Cove’s unpaved airstrip are delayed or canceled about 50 percent of the time.

The commercial hovercraft, owned and operated by the Aleutians East Borough, is temporarily out of service. The Borough winterized the craft last fall due to its unreliability during the winter months, low ridership and huge operating expenses. The Borough hopes to resume service at some point this spring. However, since 2007, the craft has been running at a net annual deficit of more than one million dollars, a cost that the small Borough (population 2,600) cannot afford. For now, the community must count on the Coast Guard for medevacs during poor weather.

“The Coast Guard has been doing an excellent job with medevacs, however, distance and poor flying conditions during stormy weather continue to be a problem,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack. This is the reason why a road corridor between King Cove and the Cold Bay Airport is the only safe, dependable and viable long-term solution.”

Currently, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (F&WS) is conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) focusing on the proposed road corridor. Pending approval by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, a small single-lane gravel road (206 acres) would be built from King Cove through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to Cold Bay’s all-weather airport. In exchange for the road corridor, the State of Alaska and the King Cove (Native) Corporation would donate 61,000 acres to the federal government. More than 45,000 acres would go into wilderness status.

The F&WS expects to release a draft EIS this summer, followed by public hearings. The final EIS is scheduled for release on Feb. 28, 2012. The Secretary is scheduled to reveal his public interest finding on April 30, 2012.

“Getting this critical transportation access solved is so important. It has been such a long, hard-fought battle,” said King Cove Corporation spokeswoman Della Trumble. “We’re hopeful the Secretary of the Interior will approve the land exchange and allow this critical road corridor to be built. It will bring peace of mind knowing our elders and those who are sick can get the medical care they need.”

For background information, visit the link below.
Background information: King Cove Access Project

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