Young notches win with U.S. House approval of King Cove road land transfer

(Photo by City of King Cove)

The U.S. House of Representatives today approved a federal land transfer to Alaska for a road between King Cove and Cold Bay, making progress in one of Alaska’s biggest battles with the federal government.

The House approved Rep. Don Young’s House Resolution 218 on a vote of 248-179. The resolution now heads to the Senate.

The resolution requires the state to transfer ownership of 43,093 acres to the Department of Interior. In exchange, the state gets 206 acres of land within the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and 131 acres of land within the Izembek Wilderness. While the acerage is far from equal, the value of the land is intended to be equal.

The state’s battle with the federal government over the road has become one of Alaska’s biggest symbols of federal government overreach. It’s been a key feature in nearly every one of the legislative addresses given by Sens. Lisa Murkowski in recent years.

Congress approved a similar measure in 2009, but the transfer was ultimately rejected by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in 2013.

The Trump administration has been more favorable to the road, and in June gave the Alaska the go-ahead to begin exploring a potential route. Then, Gov. Bill Walker said the Department of Transportation will conduct a survey “to begin looking at the least impactful route between King Cove and Cold Bay.”

“I thank Congressman Young for accomplishing this important milestone,” Walker said in a statement today. “While the work is not yet finished, the passage of H.R. 218 is a critical step towards actually building this necessary and life-saving road. State and federal agencies, our congressional delegation, and the residents of King Cove are continuing to work well towards this shared goal, and I look forward to seeing additional progress.”

The single-lane gravel road would connect the community of about 900 to Cold Bay, which has a runway. Air access has been particularly important for King Cove, which has faced difficulty transporting people with medical emergencies to help.

An alliteration about Alaska

There were a handful of amendments offered on the bill. California Rep. John Garamendi, a Democrat, offered an amendment requiring the road to be constructed only with American-made supplies and equipment. It’s a pet issue for the representative.

“Who’s opposed to that?”

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, stood in opposition to the amendment and had some fun.

“I’m actually livid for the people of King Cove, Alaska because they lack a lifesaving lane on the land to link this lonesome locality that has been left alone while lofty, litigious liberals lament losing a little landscape,” said Rep. Bob Bishop, R-Utah. “Mr. Speaker, the arguments are limited and they lack love for the Aleuts that are there. This amendment is a loser, vote no.”

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