Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke traded an 11-mile stretch of federal land Monday to the Alaskan community of King Cove, allowing residents access the area’s only all-weather airport by land.
By Zinke signing the deal, President Donald Trump delivered on a promise he made months ago to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
“The president has made very clear, to many of us, that we ought to be able to get this done, and we ought to be able to get it done in a timely manner. I got a special delivery on Monday, Oct. 16, of 2017. Front page of The Washington Post, it says ‘Interior’s Alaska Land Swap Plan Stirs Worry’ and the scribble on the top says, ‘Lisa, We will get it done. Best, Donald Trump,'” Murkowski said at a press conference after the signing ceremony.
How important was a road through #Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to @realDonaldTrump ? He sent my Oct. 16 @washingtonpost story on it to @lisamurkowski w/ the message, “Lisa, we will get it done.” pic.twitter.com/5jmm1iRDUZ
— Juliet Eilperin (@eilperin) January 22, 2018
King Cove residents have pleaded for the land for decades, wanting to use it as a land access to area’s only all-weather airport, about 30 miles away in the town of Cold Bay. The passage is needed to evacuate people for medical reasons when severe weather excludes all other options.
The state of Alaska has united behind the King Cove community in its fight for the road to Cold Bay. At one point, Alaska’s legislature offered 40,000 acres of state land in exchange for the 500 acres of federal land needed to build the road. That offer was denied.
Zinke struck a new deal, adding one acre to the federal estate in exchange for the 500 acres running through Izembek.
“People have died because they don’t have access,” Zinke said after signing the land swap. “I think [the deal made] was absolutely appropriate.”
At least 18 people have died from causes attributable to the missing road. In July 2007, two newborn twins died after their mother went into labor prematurely. She was stuck in King Cove during bad weather. Her babies were born weighing less than two pounds and died, one after a week and the other after two months.
“I was very disappointed about four years ago when Secretary Jewell turned her back on the people of King Cove and rejected the opportunity to advance the road at that time,” Murkowski said, referring to former-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s 2013 denial of the road. “I was quite determined that we not give up.”
Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, congratulated the community for finally achieving the decades long goal and added that the road will cut down on risk for members of the Coast Guard.
When bad weather strikes, usually high winds in excess of 100 miles per hour, the short channel is too dangerous to sail and flights out of King Cove’s small, challenging airport are impossible. Often, Medevacs from the Coast Guard are the last chance for the injured.
“This is a lifeline to this community and it allows us to provide many more search and rescue operations for sick and injured personnel in this particularly weather-challenged, remote environment,” Zukunft said.
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