Several environmental groups have sued the Interior Department over a planned land swap to build a road linking King Cove and Cold Bay, saying its secretary violated federal law when he did so.

Trustees for Alaska sued Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in U.S. District Court, claiming their actions ran afoul of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

The group said in a statement that Zinke couldn’t sidestep required federal reviews of the land swap in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge under ANILCA’s terms.

“If the bedrock laws designed to protect places like Izembek are progressively eroded, all of Alaska’s public lands are in jeopardy,” said David Raskin, president of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. “These threats extend to all of our nation’s precious public lands and wild places.”

Interior Department officials deferred a request for comment to the federal Justice Department, which didn't immediately respond Wednesday afternoon.

Zinke hosted an event last week in Washington, D.C., attended by Gov. Bill Walker, to formally announce an exchange of Izembek land for land owned by the King Cove Corp.

Walker questioned the lawsuit's objectives in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“I am disappointed that anyone would continue to stand in the way of a simple gravel road that could save the lives of King Cove residents under the false premise that it somehow presents a grave threat to the wilderness areas and public lands that are part of what makes Alaska great," Walker said. "In conjunction with the Department of Law, my team is reviewing the lawsuit filed today to see how the state can protect our rights that are guaranteed in federal law.”

King Cove residents have long sought the right-of-way to build a 12-mile road to Cold Bay’s airport, saying it is needed to fly severely injured residents to medical care. The deal was hailed by Alaska’s congressional delegation for allowing the construction of the “life-saving road.”

“It is unfortunate that the special interest groups continue to ignore the health and safety concerns of the residents of King Cove,” said Della Trumble, spokeswoman for the King Cove (Native) Corporation. “We are thankful that the current administration has listened to our concerns and has agreed to a land exchange that will allow us to better protect our families. We are confident the courts will uphold the agreement.”

The lawsuit, however, claims that the swap violates language of the act which requires that any swap of ANILCA lands further “the purposes of [ANILCA.]”

“Secretary Zinke’s decision to exchange Izembek lands for KCC lands does not further the purposes of ANILCA and is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law,” the complaint read.

Groups represented in the lawsuit include Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, the Wilderness Society, the National Audubon Society, Wilderness Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the Alaska Wilderness League and the Sierra Club.

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