Murkowski, Sullivan Keep Up the Fight for King Cove Road
Senators Introduce Legislation to Protect the Lives of Nearly 1,000 Alaskans
U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both R-Alaska, today introduced legislation to authorize a short, one-lane, gravel, non-commercial road for the isolated community of King Cove, Alaska. The road is needed to link King Cove to the all-weather airport in nearby Cold Bay and will provide local residents with reliable access to emergency medical transportation.
“A life-saving road remains the best and only real option to help the people of King Cove,” Murkowski said. “People have died without it. At least 55 medevacs have been carried out in the last three years alone. The Aleut people who live in this region care deeply for their lands, but are forced to live in fear that they will not be able to receive proper medical care. After years of secretarial apathy, I am eager to work with a new administration and a new Interior Secretary to restore common sense, resolve this horrible injustice, and end their needless pain and suffering.”
“For years, the people of King Cove have been pleading with the Interior Department to be allowed to access their land in order to get necessary medical care,” Sullivan said. “For years, they’ve been told that protecting birds is more important than their health and safety. This is unconscionable. I appreciate the work that Senator Murkowski has put into this issue over the years, and look forward to working with her and the new Administration to get this done for the Aleut community and other residents of King Cove.”
A plane crash in King Cove in April 2010. A total of 19 people have died in plane crashes or waiting to be medevaced from King Cove since the creation of the Izembek refuge.
King Cove is located between two volcanic mountains 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 per 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.
Marine travel in the region is no easier. Local weather conditions often generate heavy seas with waves that can top twelve feet or more. Similar to air travel, this is extremely dangerous for patients and rescuers alike. Further complicating marine travel is the dock in Cold Bay, which requires passengers to climb a ladder after disembarking. Sick, injured, and elderly patients who are unable to make the climb are often hoisted up in crab pots.
The dock in Cold Bay. The yellow sign reads, “SAFETY LADDER – USE AT YOUR OWN RISK.”
In 2009, Alaska’s congressional delegation secured the approval of legislation to facilitate a land exchange and life-saving road, which remains the safest, most reliable, and lowest cost option to provide the emergency medical transportation that virtually every other American takes for granted. However, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected the land exchange on December 23, 2013, somehow finding that it was not in the public interest.
The Murkowski-Sullivan bill authorizes an equal value land exchange between the State of Alaska and the federal government for a 206-acre land road corridor. The corridor would account for 0.06 percent of the 315,000-acre Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and is needed to facilitate an 11-mile, gravel, one-lane, non-commercial road segment that will connect two existing roads within and outside of the refuge. The Izembek refuge was created in 1980.
Roads already exist in several parts of the Izembek refuge, and have had no negative effect on local bird or wildlife populations.
Murkowski is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. She held an oversight hearing on King Cove’s continuing lack of reliable emergency medical transportation in April 2016, and has successfully reported language to facilitate a life-saving road for King Cove as chairman of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee in 2015 and 2016.