At long last, a deal

Finally, the Interior Department is about to approve a land swap that would allow the tiny fishing village of King Cove to build a short road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to connect to the all-weather runway at nearby Cold Bay, 20 miles away, for medical evacuations.

The agreement, to be signed this month, has the King Cove Corp. swapping 250 to 500 acres of land for the ability to cut an approximately 200-acre strip through the refuge, reports say.

The deal by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will overturn a determination made by former President Barack Obama’s interior secretary, Sally Jewell, in 2013. Jewell ruled such a road would cause irreparable harm to Izembek’s ecology and wildlife.

The land swap is the culmination of a decades-long fight by the residents of King Cove to build a road.

The Aleut village of fewer that 1,000 residents sometimes is isolated for days because of the region’s ferocious winds and fog. The community says more than a dozen people needing medical help over the years have died in plane crashes or because they could not reach help in time.

As sop to green interests, Congress has poured nearly $40 million into King Cove to avoid sanctioning the road. The village’s clinic was upgraded; its airstrip improved; a hovercraft was put on line in 2007. That service failed in 2010, the federal environmental impact draft says, because costs were prohibitive, it was difficult to retain trained crews and the area’s weather was simply too raw. That same weather often makes even boat travel dangerous.

Despite the obvious answer to the weather problem, a road, environmentalists and their pals on the left have fought tooth and nail to block the gravel track, fearing it would stand as a precedent and lead to fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and super highways in the nation’s wildlife refuges.

Despite that, Congress approved a land trade in 2009, but the Omnibus Public Land Management Act required an environmental impact statement. As part of that, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in February killed the swap – without being able to say with certainty a road would have detrimental effects on anything.

Then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar left to his replacement, Jewell, the decision about whether to overturn the decision, a decision Sen. Lisa Murkowski called “heartless and ill-informed.”

Looking ahead, there doubtless will be challenges from environmentalists, but we can only hope King Cove finally wins its road.

 

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