Murkowski, King Cove Continue Fight for Life-Saving Road
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) visited King Cove, Alaska with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Governor Mike Dunleavy (R-AK), and Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, Anne Zink, to push for continued federal support and the urgent approval of a short, gravel, one-lane, life-saving road needed to connect the predominantly Aleut community to the all-weather airport in nearby Cold Bay.
“We recently heard from the people of King Cove, who have stewarded these lands since time immemorial. Long before the federal government ever designated a refuge – without consulting them – this was their homeland. They have and always will care for it, and they are only asking for the same fundamental health and safety protections that just about everyone in the Lower 48 takes for granted,” Senator Murkowski said. “We heard the desperation, pain, and mental trauma that the lack of reliable emergency medical access has caused. We heard heart-wrenching stories, from airplane crashes, to a baby being born on a boat in rough seas who had to be kept warm in its oven, to sick and injured elders who had to be hoisted up to the Cold Bay dock in crab pots. My hope is that Secretary Haaland came here with an open mind, truly heard what was shared with her, and will support the Alaska Native people who live in King Cove. We must uphold the land exchange agreement needed to facilitate the life-saving road and finally put an end to this terrible environmental injustice.”
Senator Murkowski, Governor Dunleavy, and Secretary Haaland among students and community members at King Cove School.
As part of the trip, Senator Murkowski visited the King Cove School, where she was honored with an Aleut name, Sixsadag^ulux, which translates to “never breaks in two,” from the Agdaagux Tribe of King Cove.
“I’m deeply honored and humbled to have been gifted this name—especially by a people who, themselves, never break,” Senator Murkowski said. “We will never stop, and never break, in our joint effort to protect their health and safety through a life-saving road.”
Dustin Newman of the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association presided over the naming ceremony, along with Etta Kuzakin and Della Trumble of the Agdaagux Tribe of King Cove.
Background: 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. Many of the flights not canceled are impacted or delayed by wind, turbulence, fog, rain, or snow squalls. By comparison, the federally-built all-weather airport in Cold Bay, which is less than 30 miles away from King Cove, has one of the longest runways in the state and is closed an average of 10 days per year.
Yesterday’s flights from Anchorage to King Cove and back were no exception. It was unclear whether the delegation would be able to fly to King Cove until shortly before departure, as heavy rains and high winds (with gusts nearing 50 miles per hour) were forecast in King Cove yesterday evening and overnight.
Between December 2013 and April 2022, the residents of King Cove endured at least 175 emergency medevacs. Most occurred in dangerous weather conditions and many had to be carried out by the U.S. Coast Guard (USGC), risking the lives of crews and patients alike and coming at significant expense to U.S. taxpayers. The last USCG medevac occurred in March 2022, when a crew airlifted an individual in respiratory distress.
In 2019, the Department of the Interior entered into an equal-value land exchange agreement with the King Cove Native Corporation in order to facilitate the life-saving road through a small part of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The link would connect two existing roads that already exist inside and outside of the refuge. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently reinstated the agreement, vacating the decision of a lower court. Senator Murkowski continues to urge the Biden administration, including Secretary Haaland, to maintain its legal defense of the agreement.