KING COVE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Washington Post is reporting that the U.S. Interior Department has approved a land swap deal that would lead to construction of a road between Cold Bay and King Cove. According to reporting by the Post, the deal is expected to be signed sometime in January.
The Governor's office said the State Alaska's position "on the need for this road has been clear, and Governor Walker has made it one of his priorities. 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.”
The talk of a land transfer approval received swift condemnation from the National Audubon Society with a spokesperson saying it would damage fragile wilderness in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). "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,” said David Yarnold, President and CEO of National Audubon Society.
The proposed 11 mile gravel road has been a contentious issue for multiple administrations. Alaska's congressional delegation, the city of King Cove, its tribes, corporation and borough support the road as a way of transporting people to King Cove and during medical emergencies. In 2013, a federal land exchange with the State of Alaska was halted by then Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell; that decision was upheld by a U.S. District Court in 2015.
Environmental groups have long opposed the construction of the road saying the area's wetlands are of global importance. “Birds like the Emperor Goose, Brant, and Steller’s Eider rely on Izembek’s vast eelgrass beds where they can go through molt, feed, and fatten up for migration undisturbed by humans,” said Nils Warnock, Audubon Alaska’s Executive Director.
Aubdubon Alaska also argues that the public has been kept in the dark about the process between the Department of the Interior and the King Cove Corporation.