Murkowski Slams Interior for Wasting Time, Money on King Cove Study
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today criticized the Department of the Interior for wasting more than $100,000 on a study of “non-road alternatives” that will not adequately provide emergency medical transportation for the residents of King Cove, Alaska. Murkowski posted the study after Interior, despite a recent public commitment from Secretary Sally Jewell, only provided it to a small handful of King Cove officials.
“Interior has again made clear that help for King Cove is not on the way,” Murkowski said. “It is stunning the Department wasted taxpayer dollars on a narrow study while continuing to ignore the best way to protect the health and safety of local residents – a short, non-commercial, gravel road. I am also shocked that despite repeated promises, and despite this study being completed last summer, there is nothing in Interior’s $13.3 billion budget request to help King Cove. This is what you do, if your goal is to run out the clock without making the right decision.”
The Interior-commissioned, Army Corps-contracted study evaluates the potential for a marine vessel, a helicopter, and a new airport for King Cove – options that have previously been rejected, or that have been tried and failed. The study’s authors describe it as a “high-level overview” and note that its artificially limited scope “did not include local stakeholder input.”
“It is offensive that Interior would design a study that deliberately excludes the very people whose lives are at stake,” Murkowski said. “But I want to thank the company that undertook this study, which did its professional duty within the imposed constraints and highlighted the very serious challenges that the people of King Cove face. Anyone reading the study objectively can only wonder: why, again, did Interior ever take a life-saving road off the table?”
A 27-page appendix details the substantial risks and anticipated hurdles, ranging from potential impacts on wildlife to the likelihood that sufficient financing could be secured, associated with non-road alternatives. The study also confirms that non-road options are either more expensive or less reliable (or both) than a life-saving road, which Interior did not allow as a basis for comparison.
“While Interior’s current leadership may be content to study this problem until their time in office runs out, local residents are left to endure more pain and suffering,” Murkowski said. “I cannot allow that to continue, and I will redouble my efforts to secure a road by bringing this travesty to the attention of every member of our committee at a hearing next month.”
Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard was called in after a woman in her 50s was found unconscious in King Cove. The Coast Guard transported her to a Guardian flight waiting in nearby Cold Bay after its pilots were unable to land in King Cove, which faced winds that were gusting well above 50 miles per hour.
King Cove has now endured a total of 40 medevacs since Secretary Jewell’s decision of December 23, 2013 to reject a life-saving road. The U.S. Coast Guard has carried out 15 of those medevacs – risking additional lives, diverting vital resources from the service’s core mission, and incurring significant costs for U.S. taxpayers.
Murkowski has twice asked Jewell if she is aware of how many medevacs have occurred in King Cove since her decision. In 2015, Jewell was completely unaware; this year, she replied that she was “sure that it is dozens.”
Among the other recent medevacs were a man who dislocated both hips and fractured his pelvis after a 600-pound cod pot fell on him; an infant boy with RSV; a man in his 80s with sepsis; and multiple patients with heart problems or gastrointestinal bleeding. Many had to wait hours – if not overnight – before a medevac could safely arrive.
In 2009, Murkowski successfully legislated a nearly 300:1 land exchange to facilitate an 11-mile road corridor through a tiny sliver of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The road corridor would cover a maximum of 206 acres in the 315,000-acre refuge (0.065%). The road – required by law to be one-lane, gravel, and used only for non-commercial purposes – would connect the roughly 1,000 residents of King Cove to the all-weather airport in neighboring Cold Bay. Jewell rejected the exchange, and the life-saving road.
For an excellent account of the peril that continues to face King Cove as a result of federal intransigence, please see “Deadly Environmentalism” by National Review’s Ian Tuttle.