Land swap eyed for road in Alaska wildlife refuge

  • By Dan Joling
  • Monday, January 8, 2018 11:05pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — The Interior Department will explore a land exchange that could lead to construction of a road through a national wildlife refuge in Alaska.

An agreement expected to be signed this month calls for the King Cove Corp., an Alaska Native village corporation, to identify up to 0.8 square miles of its land that could be swapped for equal-value land within Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge encompasses internationally recognized habitat for migrating waterfowl in southwest Alaska.

The road would connect the communities of King Cove and Cold Bay, which has an all-weather airport needed for emergency medical flights.

An evaluation of lands of equal value would “ideally” culminate with a land exchange and a road through the refuge, said Laura Tanis, spokeswoman for the Aleutians East Borough.

“As we’ve said before, this is about health, safety and quality of life for the King Cove residents,” she said in an email response to questions.

King Cove is a village of more than 900 people near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, the body of land in Alaska’s southwest corner that juts toward the Aleutian Islands. Strong winds and mountains frequently prompt cancellation of flights into the village.

Residents for decades have sought a road link to Cold Bay, site of the airport built during World War II.

Supporters say the one-lane, gravel road would carry medical patients and private traffic but would be closed to commercial uses such as transporting fish.

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 it out of service after deciding it was too expensive and unreliable to operate.

Environmental groups strongly oppose a road, which would split a narrow isthmus separating ocean lagoons that provide important habitat for hundreds of thousands of migrating birds.

The isthmus is the southern border of the 150-square-mile Izembek Lagoon, holding one of the world’s largest beds of eelgrass, a rich food source for Pacific brant, endangered Steller’s eiders and other migratory birds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013 concluded that a 22-mile road through the isthmus could cause irrevocable damage to the watershed. Former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell agreed with a Fish and Wildlife analysis that found a land exchange could not compensate for the special qualities of existing refuge lands.

Environmental groups vow to challenge any road-building because of the harm and the precedent it would set in opening up other federal wild lands.

King Cove officials a year ago said they were optimistic that their request for a road would fare better under President Donald Trump than under the Obama administration. King Cove has the backing of the state of Alaska and its congressional delegation.

The new agreement of an exchange of up to .8 square miles, or 500 acres, of corporation land is far less than previous proposed exchanges.

In 2013, the proposal rejected by Jewell would have swapped 0.3 square miles from Izembek refuge and 2.5 sq. miles from a federal refuge south of Kodiak for 67 square miles of state land and 21 square miles of land belonging to King Cove Corp.

In July, the U.S. House approved legislation proposing a swap of 0.3 square miles in Izembek for 67 square miles of state land.

An Interior Department spokeswoman did not return an email seeking comment.

More in News

Stickers are available for voters at the Kenai No. 1 precinct for Election Day on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna to hold ‘I Voted’ sticker design contest

City council members approved the program during their Wednesday night meeting

Bill seeking to bump use of Alaska Performance Scholarship clears the House with unanimous support

The money is awarded to high-performing high school graduates to help pay for postsecondary education at participating institutions in Alaska

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson answers questions from state senators during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
State officials working to meet Friday deadline for revised transportation plan

The federal government rejected the plan on Feb. 9, citing numerous deficiencies

Travis Every, top left, speaks in support of fishing opportunity for the east side setnet fishery before the State Board of Fisheries at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Local fishers talk conservation, opportunity before Board of Fisheries in Anchorage

Local fishers from the Kenai Peninsula traveled to Anchorage this weekend to… Continue reading

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman bill would pay bonuses to nationally certified teachers

The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development estimates that the bonus program would apply to about 215 of Alaska’s estimated 7,315 teachers — about 3%

Alaska senators meet with members of the media to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

A map displays a wide-ranging special weather statement, published Tuesday by the National Weather Service, covering Southcentral Alaska. (Map courtesy of National Weather Service)
Strong winds, low wind chills forecast through Friday

Wind chills over night may reach as low as -20 to -40 degrees in much of Southcentral

Snow falls atop the Central Peninsula Diabetes Center in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. The office opened in October, but a grand opening was held this week. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Central Peninsula Hospital adds Diabetes Center

The center has been seeing patients since October and held a grand opening Monday

Gary Hollier pulls a sockeye salmon from a set gillnet at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Findings from pilot setnet fishery study inconclusive

The study sought to see whether shorter nets could selectively catch sockeye salmon while allowing king salmon to pass below

Most Read