News-Miner opinion: The proposed road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge would hardly seem to be an issue of concern for residents of Interior Alaska. The refuge is located, after all, about 1,300 miles away from Fairbanks near the far end of the Alaska Peninsula.
But it is a concern. And that is why it is good to hear that the administration of President Donald Trump has agreed to appeal the late March decision of an Anchorage federal judge to block the project.
The reason Interior Alaskans should pay attention to this issue is because it has to do with how the federal government, seated on the East Coast, views residents of distant communities in roadless lands on our side of the continent and elsewhere around the nation.
The proposed 11-mile gravel road that would cut through the refuge would connect the small community of King Cove to the slightly larger community of Cold Bay. That’s important because Cold Bay has an all-weather airport, while King Cove does not. Anyone in King Cove needing vital medical care available only in Anchorage has to hope the airstrip in their community doesn’t get shut down by bad weather, as it often does. The weather in that part of Alaska can be miserable to such an extent that residents in Fairbanks and Washington D.C. can’t possibly imagine how many days the place is socked in.
The idea of a road linking King Cove and Cold Bay has been around for a few decades but has repeatedly stalled. Two land exchanges involving the federal government, the state government and the King Cove Corp., which is an Alaska Native village corporation established under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, would have made the road possible. Former President Barack Obama’s secretary of the Interior voided the idea, saying the proposal did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. She was right on that matter; Congress had written the law in such a way that the proposal couldn’t conform.
Congress subsequently approved legislation to allow the exchange to go forward. And the friendly administration of President Trump agreed to advance the road. His Interior secretary issued a permit, but, as expected, environmental groups went to federal court to block the exchange between the federal government and the King Cove Corp. And they won, stalling the project once more.
So the battle continues, with the Trump administration announcing in late May that it has filed a notice of appeal with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
As we wrote here in January 2018, “People in need of medical treatment have died as a result of flights being grounded by adverse weather in King Cove. Between 1980 and 1994, 12 people have died waiting for medevac services out of King Cove. Since Secretary Jewel blocked the road in 2013, more than 60 people have been evacuated from King Cove by plane or boat, many of these rescues were conducted by the Coast Guard.”
“Options other than the road have been explored, but King Cove officials and other politicians, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, argue that the road is the community’s best bet.”
That remains the case today. And Alaskans, even those far away from the Alaska Peninsula, should hope the Trump administration prevails as it carries this case forward.