Feds okay King Cove road through wildlife refuge

Project still faces land evaluation, permitting and possibly more litigation

Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the King Cove Native Corp. signs documents with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to approve a link connecting King Cove and Cold Bay by road. Photo courtesy of the King Cove Native Corp.
Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the King Cove Native Corp. signs documents with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to approve a link connecting King Cove and Cold Bay by road. Photo courtesy of the King Cove Native Corp.

After over three decades of lobbying for a land based medical evacuation route between King Cove and the all weather airport at Cold Bay, residents of this Aleutians fishing community have a signed deal.

Civic and tribal leaders from King Cove were in Washington D.C. on Jan. 22 as Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the King Cove Native Corp., and a member of the local Agdaagux tribe, signed the document with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“Today’s agreement goes a long way toward restoring our faith that the federal government takes seriously its trust responsibility to Alaska Natives,” Trumble said.

The entourage there for the signing included King Cove City Administrator Gary Hennigh, King Cove Mayor Henry Mack, Aleutians East Borough Mayor Alvin Osterback, and Aleut Corp. President and chief executive officer Thomas Mack, and Alaska’s congressional delegation.

“This is more than just an issue that King Cove cares about,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “This is about how we provide a level of fairness and equity to those seeking a simple resolution to gain safety when the elements do not allow folks to travel safely by air or by boat. For more than 30 years the people of King Cove have been relentless … to assure residents are not further jeopardized.  It has been worth sticking with it,” she said.

The Aleut residents of King Cove have worked continuously for more than 30 years to win federal approval for a 12-mile road connection to link King Cove to the existing road system within the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, which connects with the Cold Bay airport built back in the 1940s as part of the World War Two effort.  The route will provide dependable ground transportation during medical emergencies.

“We have spent decades fighting for this road for one reason” Trumble said. “It is critical for our survival. We have already lost too many friends and kloved ones for there to be any legitimate reason to oppose this agreement. A small road connecting two remote communities may not seem like an important issue to many people, but to us it is a lifeline to the outside world.”

The federally recognized Agdaagux and Belkofski tribes of King Cove make up the largest Aleut community in Alaska, with over 700 tribal members combined.  King Cove is also the home of a year-round operating seafood plant owned by Peter Pan Seafoods.

“Having the peace of mind that our loved ones will be safe when they travel to and from our community -something most Americans take for granted – means the world to us,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack.

While it is uncertain when construction of the road will actually be completed, the agreement begins a process between the Interior Department and King Cove Native Corp to identify land of equal value to be exchanged for construction of a single lane, restricted access road.  The road project still faces further possible litigation from environmental organizations who contend that the road link will have an adverse impact on habitat critical to wildlife in the area. The project also still faces questions about funding and permitting by federal and state agencies.