Interior reportedly agrees to land swap for King Cove road
A federal land swap to link the remote Alaska community of King Cove with a nearby airport, previously opposed by the Obama administration, now appears to be a done deal.
The Washington Post reported late Friday that Interior Department officials and the King Cove Native Corporation had finalized the proposed swap pending formal signatures, according to King Cove city administrator Gary Hennigh.
KTVA has reached out to King Cove officials for comment Saturday.
Gov. Bill Walker's office hailed the news in a brief statement Saturday afternoon.
“The State of Alaska's position on the need for this road has been clear, and Governor Walker has made it one of his priorities," the statement read. "We are very glad that the Secretary and Department of the Interior are rationally engaging with the community of King Cove, and look forward to working to advance this project and help protect the health and safety of these Alaskans.”
King Cove residents have sought for years to build a 12-mile road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to Cold Bay, citing the difficulty of medevac flights for critically injured patients directly from King Cove. Requests for the right-of-way to do so, however, had been repeatedly rejected – most recently by Obama-era Interior secretary Sally Jewell.
Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation blasted Jewell in response, but King Cove residents later said they were optimistic the “life-saving road” would be built under President Donald Trump and his Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke.
The National Audubon Society issued a statement Saturday in response to the Washington Post story, emphasizing the decision’s adverse effect on birds like emperor geese and Steller’s eiders which feed in Izembek’s wetlands. The group also called into question the lack of details on negotiations regarding the swap publicly released by Interior officials.
“Izembek and Alaska’s Arctic (National Wildlife) Refuge are both under attack by the administration and Congress and the justifications are simply not true,” Audubon Society president and CEO David Yarnold said in the statement. “Refuges were set aside to care for the most special places in America and what we’re seeing is a methodical dismantling of the wilderness we should be gifting to generations to come.”
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