Alaska to sue for road through wildlife refuge

  • By Dan Joling
  • Monday, April 7, 2014 9:13pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — The state of Alaska announced Monday it will sue the federal government to open a road through a national wildlife refuge so that residents of a village will have improved access for emergency flights at an all-weather airport.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in December rejected a proposed land swap that would have allowed a one-lane gravel road through Izembek (EYE’-zem-bek) National Wildlife Refuge to connect King Cove with Cold Bay, two communities at the tip of the Alaska Peninsula near the start of the Aleutian Chain.

The road is proposed for an isthmus along the 150-square-mile Izembek Lagoon, home to world’s largest known bed of eelgrass, which provides fodder to migratory waterfowl — such as Pacific brant and endangered Steller’s eiders — as they head south for the winter.

The road would connect King Cove, a village of about 1,000, where strong winds and nasty weather often make flying dangerous, to Cold Bay, a former military facility with Alaska’s third-longest runway.

Gov. Sean Parnell said the federal government’s failure to approve a road was “unconscionable.”

“In just the last several weeks, serious health-related evacuations have shown just how critical a road for medical evacuations is for residents,” Parnell said in a prepared statement.

The grounds for the lawsuit, Parnell said, would be the Mining Act of 1866, which grants rights of ways based on historic use.

Environmental groups strongly oppose an Izembek road for the precedent it would set in refuges and for damage it would create in what’s acknowledged as world-class migratory bird habitat.

Jewell in December noted that the proposed land swap would be an acreage gain for the federal government. In exchange for 206 acres in Izembek and 1,600 acres in a refuge south of Kodiak, the federal government would receive 43,093 acres of state land and 13,300 acres of private land. However, she agreed with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife analysis that concluded that more was not better. The exchange could not compensate for the unique values of existing refuge lands or the anticipated effects a road on the refuge, she said.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has portrayed the issues as a birds-versus-people fight and has vowed to take all steps necessary to reverse the decision.

Congress in 1997 addressed the King Cove transportation issue with a $37.5 million appropriation for water access to Cold Bay that included a $9 million hovercraft. The Aleutians East Borough took the vessel out of service after deciding it was unreliable and too expensive to operate.

Noticed of intent to sue is required 180 days before the lawsuit can be filed.

More in News

Graphic by Ashlyn O'Hara
Borough, school district finalizing $65M bond package

Efforts to fund maintenance and repairs at school district facilities have been years in the making

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Members of the House Majority Coalition spent most of Friday, May 13, 2022, in caucus meetings at the Alaska State Capitol, discussing how to proceed with a large budget bill some have called irresponsible. With a thin majority in the House of Representatives, there’s a possibility the budget could pass.
State budget work stretches into weekend

Sessions have been delayed and canceled since Wednesday

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Alaskans for Better Government members La quen náay Liz Medicine Crow, Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson and ‘Wáahlaal Gidáak Barbara Blake embrace on the floor of the Alaska State Senate following the passage of House Bill 123, a bill to formally recognize the state’s 229 federally recognized tribes.
Tribal recognition bill clears Senate, nears finish line

Senators say recognition of tribes was overdue

The Alaska Division of Forestry’s White Mountain crew responds to a fire burning near Milepost 46.5 of the Sterling Highway on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, near Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Cooper Landing Emergency Services)
Officials encourage residents to firewise homes

The central peninsula has already had its first reported fires of the season

In this September 2017 file photo from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, beluga whales arch their backs through the surface of the water. Of Alaska’s five distinct beluga whale populations, only Cook Inlet’s is listed as endangered. (Courtesy the Alaska Department of Fish and Game)
Celebrate belugas with virtual programming next week

The three-day event will include conferences and activities

Capt. Corey Wheeler, front, commander of B Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, walks away from a Chinook helicopter that landed on the glacier near Denali, April 24, 2016, on the Kahiltna Glacier in Alaska. The U.S. Army helped set up base camp on North America’s tallest mountain. The U.S. Army is poised to revamp its forces in Alaska to better prepare for future cold-weather conflicts, and it is expected to replace the larger, heavily equipped Stryker Brigade there with a more mobile, infantry unit better suited for the frigid fight, according to Army leaders. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)
Army poised to revamp Alaska forces to prep for Arctic fight

The U.S. has long viewed the Arctic as a growing area of competition with Russia and China

A man fishes in the Kenai River on July 16, 2018, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Peninsula Clarion/file)
Emergency orders, fishing conditions updated

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Sport Fish released a Northern Kenai fishing report Friday

My Alaskan Gifts is seen at the Kenai Municipal Airport on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Municipal Airport gets gift shop

Locally sourced Alaska products are the newest addition to the Kenai Municipal… Continue reading

FILE - A sign requiring masks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus on a store front in Philadelphia, is seen Feb. 16, 2022. Philadelphia is reinstating its indoor mask mandate after reporting a sharp increase in coronavirus infections, Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, the city’s top health official, announced Monday, April 11, 2022. Confirmed COVID-19 cases have risen more than 50% in 10 days, the threshold at which the city’s guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
US marks 1 million COVID-19 deaths; 15 more reported in Alaska

The state Department of Health and Social Services reported 15 more COVID-19… Continue reading

Most Read