King Cove road issue back in court

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.

Another round of litigation is underway over a land based medical evacuation route between the Aleutians fishing village of King Cove and the all-weather airport at Cold Bay.

At stake is about 12 miles of road construction through Izembek Naitonal Wildlife Refuge to connect some 18 miles of existing road out of King Cove with the road extending from the all-weather airport at Cold Bay.

Trustees for Alaska filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Anchorage on Jan. 31 on behalf of nine environmental entities against Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, alleging that a land exchange that would allow for construction of several miles of road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Plaintiffs include Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, Wi9lderness Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Alaska Wilderness League and the Sierra Club. The conservation groups say the proposed route would adversely impact migratory bird habitat and set a bad precedent for other wilderness areas.

“If allowed to stand, this would be the first time that wilderness is taken away from the American public with the stroke of one person’s pen,” said Katie Strong, senior staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska. It is shortsighted, unlawful and contrary to the careful deal struck in ANILCA.”

A spokesperson for the Aleutians East Borough, which is not named in the lawsuit, said they are still reviewing the complaint and are confident the courts will uphold the agreement signed by King Cover civic and tribal officials with Zinke on Jan. 22 in ceremonies in Washington D.C. attended also by Gov. Bill Walker and the Alaska congressional delegation.  The deal was intended to begin a process between the Interior Department and King Cove Native Corp. to identify land of equal value to be exchanged to allow for construction of a single lane, restricted access road. Along with the latest litigation, the project still faces questions regarding funding and permitting by federal and state governments.

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Margaret Bauman is a veteran Alaska journalist focused on covering fisheries and environmental issues. Bauman has been writing for The Cordova Times since 2010. You can reach her at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com.