Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is personally pushing to construct a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge at the request of the isolated community of King Cove, Alaska, CNN reports.
The 11 mile road would run between King Cove and the Cold Bay Airport, a passageway King Cove has sought for decades. Local officials say the airport access is necessary for the town’s 925 residents in case of medical emergencies too severe for the local clinic to handle.
“King Cove is an isolated community accessible only by air and sea. The absence of the road has meant life-and-death for the inhabitants of King Cove,” Interior Spokeswoman Heather Swift told The Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement. “The careful construction of an 11-mile single lane gravel road in a manner that conforms with all applicable environmental laws, rules, and regulations and gives easier access to the local hospital makes sense.”
Members of Alaska’s indigenous population have petitioned for the road for 27 years, according to a resolution the National Congress of American Indians passed in 2015. Without the gravel road “lifeline,” the only other ways to access the King Cove airport is by boat or charter plane. Those modes are reliable 60 to 70 percent of the time, according to the resolution.
$50 million was spent on airport improvements, a hovercraft, and a path for the hovercraft, but the vehicle was eventually scrapped in 2010 after three years of use for inefficiency.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) agreed to consider the road in 2009. In 2013, at the end of a four year review, former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected the road.
“Building a road through the Refuge would cause irreversible damage not only to the Refuge itself, but to the wildlife that depend on it,” Jewell said in a statement announcing the rejection. “Izembek is an extraordinary place – internationally recognized as vital to a rich diversity of species – and we owe it to future generations to think about long-term solutions that do not insert a road through the middle of this Refuge and designated wilderness.”
The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge houses habitat for grizzly bears, caribou, salmon and, for a time every year, nearly every Pacific black brant goose in the world. Opponents of the road say it would disturb ecological balance of the reserve and could have severe effects on the birds.
“Our ability to get back and forth safely — that is what’s important to this community,” King Cove (Native) Corporation spokeswoman Della Trumble told CNN.
The reversing Jewell’s King Cove road decision is consistent with the Trump administration’s support for control of land by local communities. President Donald Trump recently announced he would reduce two national monuments in Utah, one by 85 percent.
“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington. And guess what? They’re wrong,” Trump said in a speech at Utah’s State Capitol building announcing the cutbacks.
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