New lawsuit filed over King Cove Road

Conservation groups are suing Interior Department over new land swap

A vessel offloading salmon at King Cove on the Alaska Peninsula in July 2016. Photo by ALEUTIANEXPRESS/Wikimedia commons

A legal battle over a road connecting King Cove to Cold Bay is back in court, with nine conservation groups suing the Trump administration over a new land swap deal between the Interior Department and the King Cove Corp.

The plaintiffs’ concern is that a portion of the road would go through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, whose wetlands support a variety of wildlife, including millions of migrating birds.

Residents of King Cove want the road to provide ground access to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay in the event of medical emergencies when it is too dangerous to fly or even go by boat to Cold Bay. 

Residents of King Cove have cited numerous incidents over the years of medical emergencies where people had to be medevaced out by the Coast Guard. Since 2014 alone, there have been nearly 100 medevacs in King Cove. Peter Pan Seafoods has for over 100 years operated a major year-round seafood plant in the community, whose population is just over 1,000 people.

The fishing community is often plagued by gale-force winds or dense fog, so that aircraft are grounded, sometimes leaving open the option a three-hour journey over rough seas by boat to Cold Bay. At other times the weather is too rough even for boat travel.

The courts threw out a previous agreed upon land swap in March after Trustees for Alaska sued on behalf of the same groups. Then Interior Secretary David Bernhardt executed a new land swap, which does not limit use of the road to health, safety and non-commercial purposes.

The new lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage on Aug. 7 by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, The Wilderness Society, National Audubon Society, Wilderness Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Alaska Wilderness League and the Sierra Club.

“We have no comment at this point,” said Della Trumble, president of the King Cove Corp. “We are starting to review the lawsuit.”

Defendants in the Interior Department have 60 days to respond to the complaint.

Bridget Psarianos, staff attorney for Trustees for Alaska, said they expect a response sometime around Oct. 7.

“Because this is an administrative case, we will not have a trial with testimony,” Psarianos said. “We may or may not request oral argument, which would involve going to court and explaining the case to the judge and answering any questions he or she may have, but if that happens it would not occur until sometime in the spring,” she said.