Murkowski Fights to Transfer King Cove Road Land to State of Alaska in Interior Bill

Subcommittee Chairman Adds Provision to Protect Human Health and Safety

Senator Lisa Murkowski today continued her efforts to protect the health and safety of the people of King Cove, Alaska by advancing a land transfer needed to provide local residents with reliable access to medical care in emergency situations.

The legislation, drafted by Murkowski and approved today by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, would direct an equal-value land transfer to allow the construction of a short, one-lane, non-commercial use, gravel road between King Cove and nearby Cold Bay.

“It has been 540 days since Interior Secretary Jewell rejected a life-saving road for this isolated community, and help from the administration is clearly not on the way,” Murkowski said. “Today, we told the administration ‘enough is enough’ and took the next step to finally provide relief to the people of King Cove. The appropriations process was not my first choice, but it is our best option, and fully warranted after so many years of needless human suffering.”

The life-saving road will allow the residents of King Cove to safely access nearby Cold Bay, home to the second-longest runway in the state, in cases of emergency and severe weather conditions. King Cove’s airstrip is closed by bad weather more than 100 days a year on average. Nearly 40 percent of the flights not canceled are interrupted by wind and turbulence, fog, rain, or snow squalls. By comparison, the Cold Bay airport is closed an average of 10 days a year.

“No amount of study, deception, or delay will change the fact that a road remains the only viable option for King Cove,” Murkowski said. “My approach in this bill – to cherry-stem a very small road out of a wilderness area – is neither unusual nor unprecedented, but instead quite common. Congress has repeatedly recognized such roads in the past, usually right as it designates an area as wilderness. With the health and safety of nearly 1,000 Alaskans at stake, it is decades past time for us to offer the same simple protections to King Cove.”

King Cove residents must fly more than 600 miles to Anchorage for most medical procedures, including serious trauma and childbirth. A total of 25 medevacs – including seven by the U.S. Coast Guard – have been carried out in the community since Jewell rejected the life-saving road in late 2013. Murkowski detailed many of those medevacs – which regularly involve terrible injuries or potentially fatal illnesses – in a letter to Jewell in early March. 

In 2009, a Democratic Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation authorizing a land exchange for King Cove, allowing the short road to pass through a small part of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The land exchange would have resulted in 56,000 acres of state and tribal lands being added to federal acreage in Alaska in exchange for a 206-acre road corridor through the refuge. President Obama signed the legislation into law, but the exchange was blocked by the Interior Department on December 23, 2013.