Following the lawsuit against the Department of the Interior for the construction of a single lane road between King Cove and Cold Bay, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Wednesday reiterated that she is sticking by her decision.
Jewell sent public letters to Sen. Lisa Murkowksi, Gov. Sean Parnell and residents of King Cove that said she wants to work with them on emergency transportation to Cold Bay but that a solution will not include a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
Said the letter:
I want to reiterate our commitment to continuing to work with you, as well as across the relevant Federal agencies, to evaluate and develop other transportation improvements for the residents of King Cove and Cold Bay. We have been actively working to explore other options that bolster the public safety and emergency response capabilities available to King Cove, as well as potentially provide economic benefits to the community.
Current methods of transportation to and from the facilities in Cold Bay include air and water craft, which can be ineffective in strong weather conditions, particularly during the winter.
At the core of the issue is a December decision by Jewell mandating a no-action plan on building the road through Izembek, which cited a four year study into the potential ecological impacts the road could have on local wildlife. Izembek is home to several species listed as endangered and is considered a “critical area for wildlife.”
Many Alaska politicians have blasted the decision as federal overreach, claiming the department is placing birds and other wildlife above the lives of Alaskans.
House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt also claimed Jewell’s callousness toward the issue was evident in a comment he said she made during a press conference, telling Alaskans to “get over it." She denied making the comment.
Della Trumble, spokesperson for the Agdaagux Tribe and the King Cove Corporation, said Wednesday that locals are "saddened by her letter, but we're not surprised."
"I think the secretary needs to understand clearly, as we have told her when she was in this community, that we will never give up on this issue," Trumble said. "We will continue to do whatever we can to get a positive resolution to this, which is a road."
"We are at this point where you have such unanimity in the community about the preferred alternative being the road because all other solutions have been tried and failed," Murkowski said. "I wish the Secretary had done a little bit more of her own homework."