Alaska village sues feds to open road in refuge

  • By Dan Joling
  • Wednesday, June 4, 2014 10:12pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — An Alaska village sued the U.S. Interior Department on Wednesday after it rejected a road through a national wildlife refuge that could improve access to emergency flights at a nearby all-weather airport.

The city of King Cove, tribal governments and individuals filed the lawsuit against Secretary Sally Jewell for the agency’s denial of a gravel road to nearby Cold Bay through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, an internationally recognized habitat for migratory birds.

“This is about protecting the lives of human beings,” Della Trumble, a representative of the Agdaagux Tribe said in an announcement of the lawsuit.

The state of Alaska in April gave the required 180 days’ notice that it also would sue. Interior Department spokeswoman Emily Beyer said by email that the agency could not comment on litigation.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Anchorage claims the Interior Department’s rejection is a violation of federal law and arbitrary because no other reasonable transportation alternatives exist.

King Cove and Cold Bay are at the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, which juts southwest from mainland Alaska toward 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.

Strong winds and inclement weather often make it impossible to safely fly to King Cove, a village of 938. Cold Bay, a former military facility, is home to Alaska’s third-longest runway.

In December, Jewell rejected a proposed land swap that would have changed the boundaries of the refuge to complete construction of a 30-mile road, including 11 miles of new road, to Cold Bay. The trade would give the federal government far more acreage — 97.5 square miles for less than 3 square miles. However, Jewell agreed with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife analysis saying the exchange could not compensate for the special qualities of existing refuge lands.

Environmental groups strongly oppose the road for the precedent it would set in refuges and for damage it would create in world-class migratory bird habitat.

Congress in 1997 addressed the 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.

Village residents contend the department is trading human lives for birds.

The lawsuit said Leff Kenezuroff, a plaintiff, has been medically evacuated to Cold Bay four times after heart attacks. After one episode, when planes could not fly, he was carried on a crab boat and hoisted to the dock in a crab pot because he could not climb a 25-foot ladder.

Eleven people have been medically evacuated since Jan. 1, according to village officials.

“We’ve been fortunate that we haven’t lost any lives this year during these challenging medivacs,” King Cove Mayor Henry Mack said.

More in News

ASLC Seasonal Animal Care Specialist Emma Begalka interacts with Mist the Steller sea lion in the Underwater viewing area at the Alaska SeaLife Center during an enrichment session on November 30, 2022. Mist unexpectedly passed away on January 23, 2023 after staff observed seizure-like tremors. (Photo courtesy Kaiti Grant/Alaska SeaLife Center)
Young sea lion dies unexpectedly at SeaLife Center

Mist, who was approximately 2-and-a-half years old, had been socializing with three other Steller sea lions

Kristin Davis performs a dissection on a donated lynx on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo provided by Kristin Davis)
KCHS students get rare opportunity to dissect lynx in class

“A local trapper let me know there was a lynx, would I want to have it?,” anatomy and biology teacher Kristin Davis said

Soldotna City Council members interview city manager applicant Elke Doom (on screen) during a special city council meeting on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna council interviews city manager candidates

The city announced last November that Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen will be stepping down

A promotional graphic for Zach’s Fight (Facebook)
Zach’s Fight fundraiser to benefit Kenai athlete during Tuesday basketball

A fundraiser will be held for a sophomore diagnosed with leukemia.

The deadline for the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, which comes from the fund managed by the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, is coming up fast, landing on March 31, 2023. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
2023 PFD filing available, ends March 31

Applications can be filed online through myAlaska, or by visiting pfd.alaska.gov

Seward Middle School students ride the chair lift at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, Alaska, on Jan. 26, 2023. (Photo courtesy Myla Lijemark)
Hitting the slopes

Seward Middle School students get outside and onto the side of a mountain

Kachemak Emergency Services logo.
Lawsuit: Borough retaliated against harassment complaint

The suit says the borough violated the “covenant of good faith and fair dealing” and caused “severe emotional distress”

Flowers bloom at Soldotna City Hall on Wednesday, June 24, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna OKs bumps to city water, sewer rates

The changes are effective July 1

Most Read