• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
4m 22s

King Cove road fight continues in Washington, D.C.

By Heather Hintze 10:25 PM March 26, 2014

Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she will not back down on a life-saving road to an all-weather airport Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell rejected in December

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Lisa Murkowski squared off against Interior Secretary Sally Jewell at a budget hearing on Wednesday.

Murkowski used her time during opening remarks to once again bring up the issue of King Cove’s need for a road to an all-weather airport at nearby Cold Bay.

“This road is non-negotiable. The health and safety of the people of King Cove is non-negotiable,” Murkowski said. “I will do everything in my power to make sure that the needs of these people are taken care of and put first.”

Jewell rejected the road in December, citing concerns that the 10-mile gravel road would go through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

“It is a very, very important and unique habitat and the determination by Fish and Wildlife Service is it would be very disruptive to build a road through that area,” Jewell said.

Since her rejection there have been seven medevacs from King Cove, four of which involved the U.S. Coast Guard landing in severe weather.

“A beating heart is more important than a duck. Anyone who throws any other issue into that is wrong. There is nothing more important than human life,” said Bonita Babcock as she choked back tears.

Babcock is a community health aide at the medical clinic in King Cove. She’s seen firsthand the need for a road when she deals with patients who desperately await a medevac from the Coast Guard during a storm.

Residents said they understand the need to preserve the habitat, but not at the expense of their families’ lives.

“Our ancestors have lived out there for four to five thousand years,” said King Cove Corporation Spokeswoman Della Trumble. “We have Aleut village sites all the way through that corridor from King Cove into Cold Bay. That’s part of who we are. And we were brought up to live off the land, but we were taught to only take what you need so we always had a renewable resource.”

“The notion that you must protect Alaska from Alaska Natives, our First People — it’s insulting,” Murkowski said. “And that’s the way Alaskans feel. We feel insulted that we cannot care for the land and the animals and the birds and still provide for a safe, reliable access.”

Jewell said because King Cove is still 600 miles from the hospital, emergency transportation would still be needed regardless of a road to Cold Bay.

“The medevacs would continue,” she explained. “There is a medical clinic that stabilizes patients and prepares them for transport. The issue with the road is only a factor for medical evacuations where the weather is not conducive to getting people into the King Cove airport, but it’s OK at the Cold Bay airport.”

King Cove residents say that’s that problem: The weather.

A video of a Coast Guard medevac from February shows how bad the weather can get — with extremely dense fog and high winds, sometimes up to 100 mph. Residents said that’s a common occurrence in their village; they think it will take something catastrophic to get Jewell’s attention.

“Unfortunately, we believe that may be what happens, is that someone actually has to die or the Coast Guard, God forbid, crashes with the crew on board with a patient, ” Trumble said. “I hate to think that’s what it’s going to take for the government to understand how important this is for us.”

While Jewell maintains the Coast Guard is a viable alternative to building a road, Murkowski said it’s not. Each Coast Guard medevac costs nearly a quarter-million dollars. She said to make the agency the primary source of King Cove’s medical needs it would take two additional helicopters, at $26 million a piece, and at least half a million dollars a year in per diem costs to house the staff needed.

“We’re not asking for anything that’s over the top. Right now it’s a 10-mile strip that’s needed for safe access for our families,” said Etta Kuzakin.

She knows just how hard it is to get out of King Cove during a medical emergency. Her daughter Sunny Rae just celebrated her first birthday but had a dramatic entry into the world. Kuzakin went into labor during a terrible storm, so bad even the Coast Guard almost didn’t make it in.

Kuzakin said the nurse at the clinic begged the Coast Guard several times before they attempted to land for the emergency. She was taken to Anchorage and Sunny Rae was born just a few hours later by C-section, a surgery the clinic doesn’t have the staff or equipment to handle.

“We’ll keep asking, we’ll keep fighting,” she said. “We will fight, and I hate to use that word, ‘fight.’ We will be here forever.”

Residents have until April 15 to give Jewell a list of alternative solutions to building a road. They said that’s also there chance to present her with evidence that the road is the only solution there is.

“This is a safe and easy way to help our fellow citizens and the only thing standing in the way is our own federal government’s decision to place a higher value on the birds than it does on the health and safety of my state’s citizens and that’s simply wrong,” Murkowski said.

Latest Stories

  • Politics

    Alaska House takes up crime bill on day 105 of session

    by Liz Raines on May 02, 22:52

    It’s been 15 days since the legislative session was supposed to be over. Members of House leadership say they have to pass a budget before gaveling out, but they spent Monday working on a different measure. Senate Bill 91 would revamp the way the state approaches criminal justice. Gov. Bill Walker and Department of Corrections […]

  • Politics

    Legislature pursues Wells Fargo office space, says current LIO is ‘off the table’

    by Liz Raines on May 02, 21:48

    The Legislative Council voted Monday to negotiate buying the Wells Fargo building on the corner of Minnesota Drive and Benson Boulevard in Anchorage at an amount not to exceed $12.5 million. Sen. Gary Stevens, chair of the council, said purchase of the downtown legislative information office is now “off the table” after Gov. Bill Walker […]

  • News

    Anchorage students raise money for victims of Ecuador Earthquake

    by Alexis Fernandez on May 02, 20:33

    A group of Anchorage middle school students is raising money for the people most affected by the recent earthquake in Ecuador. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed more than 65o people in Ecuador’s northwest coast two weeks ago. Elizabeth Renteria’s Spanish class at Central Middle School is selling homemade bracelets for $1 as part of an ongoing […]

  • Sports

    Dimond High School hockey star signs to play college football

    by Jake Edmonds on May 02, 20:22

    When Chris Gardeline started playing hockey at eight-years-old, his goal was to one day make it to the college level. He never expected it would be on the gridiron. Gardeline was a goalie for the Dimond High School Lynx. After wrapping up his senior season on the ice, his football friends convinced him to join […]

  • Lifestyle

    Lasers replace traditional drills at local Anchorage dentist office

    by Lauren Maxwell on May 02, 20:05

    For some people, a trip to the dentist can be trauma inducing. Finding out you need a root canal or even a cavity filled isn’t fun, but what if you could have those procedures done without using needles or drills? One local dentist says it’s possible with lasers. Dr. Kirk Johnson has used lasers in […]

  • News

    Anchorage’s first food truck hub opens for summer

    by Shannon Ballard on May 02, 19:59

    Can’t decide where to eat for lunch? There are now several more options in downtown Anchorage. The city’s first food truck hub opened on Monday at the corner of Eighth Avenue and K Street. Known as “K Street Eats,” many vendors are hoping it will be boost to their business. Sugar House Waffles has been in […]

  • News

    Crews light fire to prevent fire on JBER

    by Bonney Bowman on May 02, 19:38

    Nearly 2,000 acres of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson land will go up in flames this week – all to prevent a potential wildfire this summer. Fire crews started the controlled burn Monday, setting fire to live-fire ranges in the Arctic Valley area. The ranges are like a tinderbox this time of year, full of dry grass […]

  • News

    Anchorage detox center temporarily suspends opiate addiction treatment

    by Alexis Fernandez on May 02, 19:22

    Alaskans addicted to opiates will have to wait a few days to detox in an inpatient environment. Alaska’s two opiate detox centers are suspended from accepting new patients after they learned through an audit that they haven’t been following a new federal regulation. Both the Gateway to Recovery Detox Center in Fairbanks and the Ernie Turner […]