Representatives from King Cove, Alaska’s top elected officials and Department of Interior officials coming in during the federal government shutdown gathered together Monday to sign an agreement for the long-sought-after road connecting King Cove to Cold Bay.
The agreement signed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Della Trumble, the finance manager for the King Cove Corporation, allows the Alaska Native corporation to begin selecting land in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge for a 30-mile road granting King Cove road access to the Cold Bay airport.
“Access to the all-weather airport in Cold Bay is truly a matter of life and death to us, so we are eternally grateful to all those who have listened to the people of our region,” said Trumble in a prepared statement released by the Interior Department. “Today’s agreement goes a long way toward restoring our faith that the federal government takes seriously its trust responsibility to the Aleut and to all Alaska Natives.”
Here are the details of the deal:
- King Cove Corporation will be able to select up to 500 acres of land for the single-lane, 30-mile road. In return, the corporation will convey an equal value of land it owns in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge to the Interior Department.
- The King Cove road “shall be used primarily for health, safety and quality of life purposes (including access to and from the Cold Bay Airport) and generally for noncommercial purposes.
- Allows for the transport of fish and seafood only by individuals and small businesses, but prohibits other commercial transport of fish and seafood along the road.
Why it matters
The announcement from the Department of Interior says there are 18 deaths that can be attributed to the lack of the road. King Cove residents with medical emergencies have had to count on boat or plane rides to Cold Bay, something that’s particularly risky during stormy weather.
The road has come to be one of the highest-profile battles between Alaska and the federal government in recent years. Gov. Bill Walker, who attended Monday’s signing, said the agreement is a major change in that battle.
“This is a paradigm shift,” Governor Walker said in a statement released by his office. “For decades, the federal government acted in an irresponsible way by placing a higher value on appeasing people who will never get within a thousand miles of King Cove over the health and safety of those who actually live there. Now, federal officials are sitting at the same table and working with us on this issue and many others.”
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski helped the project get the attention of the Trump administration, and at the signing presented a copy of the Washington Post signed “We will get it done” by President Trump.
— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) January 22, 2018
The state set aside about about $7.5 million for the road during 2017 budget process.
The deal will likely face a legal challenge by the Washington D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife because the road crosses protected migratory bird habitat, according to the Anchorage Daily News.