"The secretary chose to look away from the people and say, 'You know, we're going to take care of the birds but we're sure not going to take care of you folks,'" said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
ANCHORAGE – Some say it’s a decision that could mean the difference between life and death for people in southwest Alaska.
Monday, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell denied a plan to build a 10-mile road connecting King Cove residents with emergency medical care.
When something goes wrong for residents in King Cove, they go to the local medical clinic. But if it’s something serious, emergency medical care is a plane or helicopter ride away — if weather permits.
That’s why a road is wanted and needed: to connect King Cove and the larger airport at Cold Bay. It’s been a battle people at King Cove have been fighting for 30 years.
On the front lines is lifelong resident Della Trumble, who heard about the decision Monday morning.
She said she felt, “shock, number one and just basically anger, I have to be honest with you. We’ve worked so hard.”
Trumble has seen the problem firsthand.
Over the years, more than a dozen of her friends and neighbors have died waiting to get emergency medical care.
“I couldn’t make my doctor appointments three months in a row because I couldn’t get to Cold Bay,” Trumble said.
King Cove does have a medical clinic, but it can’t handle major emergencies.
“I don’t care how much you upgrade that medical clinic,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski. ”You’re not going to have an anesthesiologist out there, you’re not going to have somebody that can handle a heart attack.”
Jewell said she denied the road project to protect the millions of birds and other animals living in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
But Murkowski said other states have roads through preserves, like the highway through the Florida Everglades.
“The secretary chose to look away from the people and say, ‘You know, we’re going to take care of the birds but we’re sure not going to take care of you folks,’” Murkowski said.
The proposed road would have been 10 miles long with one lane, made of gravel and only for medical use.
Trumble said there has to be a way to balance the needs of the community while protecting the environment.
“We will fight until we get access and that is what we will do,” she said. “This isn’t over.”
A year ago, Murkowski threatened to hold up Jewell’s appointment to the cabinet if she didn’t personally visit King Cove to learn about the problem.
Today, Murkowski said she regrets voting to approve Jewell now that the secretary has denied the road project.