Delegation Welcomes Court Ruling Reinstating King Cove Land Exchange Agreement
U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young, all R-Alaska, today welcomed a ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstating the land exchange needed to facilitate a life-saving road for the residents of King Cove, Alaska. The Ninth Circuit’s decision reversed and remanded a flawed District Court ruling that set aside the land exchange agreement in June 2020.
“This decision out of the Ninth Circuit reflects the right read of ANILCA and the Secretary of the Interior’s clear authority to facilitate land exchanges in Alaska. I was also pleased to see Sturgeon v. Frost referenced in the court’s decision, in recognition that ANILCA was supposed to lead to balanced management of Alaska’s lands,” Senator Murkowski said. “While this is not the last step in King Cove’s legal battle, I’m hopeful that courts at all levels will read this ruling and support the land exchange agreement signed by former Secretary Bernhardt. I also urge Secretary Haaland, and the broader Biden administration, to do the right thing and join our fight to secure a short, gravel, one-lane, life-saving road for King Cove.
“I join the people of King Cove in celebrating today’s Ninth Circuit ruling that approves the land exchange necessary for their long-sought, life-saving road to the all-weather airport in Cold Bay,” said Senator Sullivan. “This is an important ruling, but it’s also just one step of many still to come. And it’s a reminder of how certain federal officials and far-left radical environmental groups continue to place the lives and wellbeing of people below their extreme agenda. This proposed land swap to accommodate an 11-mile, single-lane gravel road has faced litigation from extreme environmentalists and historic opposition from Democrats who seem to have no regard for the safety or wellbeing of Alaskans. Today’s decision underscores how critically important it is to have federal judges who understand and respect the federal laws, like ANILCA, and the Supreme Court precedents, notably Sturgeon v. Frost, that uniquely impact Alaska’s federal lands.”
“Today is a good day for the State of Alaska and a hard-fought victory for the people of King Cove. For years, I have stood with this community in support of the land exchange to allow a potentially life-saving road to be built. This decision in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is further proof that the land exchange is on solid legal footing,” said Congressman Don Young. “Today's victory comes one year after the Biden Administration announced their support for the road in court, following a legal challenge to the Trump Administration's approval of the exchange. The proposed single-lane gravel road enjoys bipartisan support across two Administrations for good reason: in the event of medical emergencies, natural disasters, or any other crisis, access to surface transportation can mean the difference between life and death for residents of King Cove. I remain confident that this road will be fully authorized and will continue working to ensure that King Cove's families can stay connected to the rest of our state and enjoy the safety and security they deserve.”
In July 2019, then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed an equal-value land exchange agreement with the King Cove Corporation (an Alaska Native Village Corporation) to facilitate a 11-mile road that would connect two existing roads within and near the 315,000-acre Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The connector road would allow King Cove residents to have reliable access to the all-weather airport in nearby Cold Bay, which was closed off by virtue of a federal land designation imposed in 1980 without local approval or consent. Seven national environmental groups – comprised of individuals who have never lived in King Cove or had to face medical emergencies where severe weather prevents access to needed care – predictably sued to stop the exchange.
King Cove is located between two volcanoes near the end of the Alaska Peninsula, about 625 miles southwest of Anchorage. The small gravel airstrip in King Cove is typically closed by bad weather for more than 100 days each year. Nearly 40 percent of the flights not canceled are impacted or delayed by wind, turbulence, fog, rain, or snow squalls. By comparison, the all-weather airport in Cold Bay, which is less than 30 miles away from King Cove, is home to the fifth-longest runway in the state and closed an average of 10 days per year.
Between December 2013 and December 2021, the residents of King Cove endured at least 157 emergency medevacs. Most occurred in dangerous weather conditions and many had to be carried out by the U.S. Coast Guard, risking the lives of crews and patients alike.