Eight years and 157 medevacs after their effort to complete an Aleutians medical evacuation route to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay were struck down, residents of King Cove are hoping Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will find reasons to make the route a reality.
King Cove Mayor Warren Wilson says the community hopes that Haaland will visit King Cove soon to talk with residents and see first-hand the daily challenges they face.
“Many people in King Cove have either been medevaced themselves or have family members who experienced dangerous medevacs during harsh weather,” Wilson said.
Residents of this Aleutian Island city, home of a major Peter Pan Seafood year-round processing facility, are still reeling over the decision of former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, announced two days before Christmas 2013, to reject a congressionally approved land exchange that would have facilitated a short stretch of gravel one-lane road to connect King Cove with the all-weather airport at Cold Bay.
Jewell made a “horrible decision” … “and it is the good people of King Cove who have paid the price ever since,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “A single medevac is too many, let alone 157.”
“It is simply unconscionable that the federal government has failed to protect these Alaskans’ health and safety, especially in the midst of a global pandemic that has made emergency medical access all the more critical,” Murkowski said. “The federal government has a trust responsibility to the tribes of King Cove, but it has been broken for decades.”
Opposition to the road remains strong from several environmental entities, because completing the road would bring the route through 206 acres of the 315,000-acre Izembeck National Wildlife Refuge.
More than a dozen environmental organizations contend that putting the road through Izembeck could cause irreparable damage to a globally important conservation area, setting a precedent that jeopardizes wildlife refuges and wilderness protections on public lands nationwide. The road itself would be a violation of the Wilderness Act’s purpose to permanently protect public wildlands, they argued collectively in a letter to Congress in September 2016.
Della Trumble, chief executive officer of the King Cove Corp., remembers well when the news arrived on Dec. 23, 2013, from former Secretary Sally Jewell.
“My family and others in King Cove were full of hope while getting ready to celebrate Christmas that year,” Trumble said.
The announcement from Jewell was “crushing,” she said. King Cove tribal, city and Aleutians East Borough leaders met virtually with Haaland in August.
According to Etta Kuzakin, the Agdaagux tribal president, the meeting went well and Haaland seemed genuinely concerned about the health and safety issue of putting the road through.
Kuzakin herself was medevaced from King Cove by the Coast Guard in 2013 during a storm while in premature labor with her youngest daughter, Sunnie Rae said. They wouldn’t have survived without that Coast Guard rescue, which happened only because the Coast Guard was nearby on another mission, Kuzakin said.