Residents of King Cove, a fishing community on the Alaska Peninsula that is home to a large, year-round Peter Pan Seafoods processing plant, say they will keep fighting for a road vital to emergency medical evacuations.
Veteran commercial fisherman Stanley Mack, mayor of the Aleutians East Borough, says backers of the single lane road to connect King Cove to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay plan to regroup in January and look at further options.
Mack and residents of King Cove, along with Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell and the state’s congressional delegation expressed outrage over the decision of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to reject a proposed land swap that would have allowed for the road.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, denounced Jewell’s decision as heartless and ill-informed. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said he would introduce legislation in January directing the federal government to build that road.
The land exchange was approved by Congress in 2009, as the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Land Exchange Act.
It would have allowed the federal government to exchange 206 acres from the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and 1,600 acres from a refuge south of Kodiak for 43,093 acres of state land and 13,300 acres of land owned by the King Cove Corp., an Alaska Native village firm. Jewell’s decision on Dec. 23 reaffirms an earlier rejection of the proposed land swap by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Interior Secretary said that she supports the USFWS decision that “building a road through the refuge would cause irreversible damage not only to the refuge itself, but to the wildlife that depend on it.”
Over the years over a dozen people have died, either in plane crashes or because they could not get to Anchorage hospitals in time to get emergency treatment.
In stormy weather, small planes that normally carry passengers to Cold Bay from King Cove cannot take off or land at King Cove, leaving as the only possible option traveling by fishing boat, a bumpy ride that can take about three hours.
Meanwhile sport hunters continue to enter the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge via Cold Bay, where area hunting lodges advertise their availability for sport hunting trips that include the taking of Pacific black brant and other waterfowl that Jewell and a number of conservation organizations have said need to have their feeding habitat protected.