WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a speech on the House Floor, Alaskan Congressman Don Young today urged his colleagues in the Senate to put a hold on the nomination of Sally Jewell to succeed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, until the Department of Interior signs off on a land exchange that would allow the residents of King Cove limited emergency road access through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
“This is an injustice the Secretary of Interior and the Fish and Wildlife [Service] have done to a village called King Cove in Alaska. We had hearings, we had the land transfer, we had everything going to work so these people could be safe; be safe to go to hospitals, be safe to fly out when the weather was bad. It was an agreement between the State, the Congress and the village of King Cove. But along comes Fish and Wildlife and denies them the trade that has to be necessary for this transportation corridor."
Rep. Young continues, “I'm urging my senators to put a hold on a new Secretary of the Interior, so she's not confirmed until this Secretary can in fact sign the law to allow [King Cove] to have safety once and for all."
Rep. Young concludes, “I'm asking Secretary Salazar, in fact, to take and do his job, overturn the Fish and Wildlife's recommendation, allow my people to be safe, and make sure they can continue to live their lives without the threat of the weather, which can be solved by an act of the Secretary.”
Additionally in an Op-Ed penned in Politico this morning; Congressman Young implores Secretary of the Interior Salazar as one of his last acts as Secretary, to live up to President Obama’s words and help make “tribal communities safer and stronger” by allowing the land transfer to proceed.
POLITICO: The road Ken Salazar should take
Last month, when Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced his intent to resign, President Obama released a statement praising his record with Native Americans, saying he has helped “resolve longstanding disputes and make tribal communities safer and stronger.”
Now, as one of his last acts in office, Secretary Salazar is presented with an opportunity to cement this legacy.
On February 5, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement choosing to prohibit a congressionally authorized land exchange that would lead to the construction of a one-lane, gravel, emergency road through a small portion of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
For years, the community of King Cove has attempted to gain approval for the construction of an emergency access road to Cold Bay to access their all-weather airport for medical emergencies. King Cove is a predominantly Alaska Native community located at the far end of the Alaska Peninsula. With limited medical infrastructure, for these Alaskans, lifesaving emergency care is a plane ride away.
Due to inclement weather, typical of this remote area, King Cove’s airport is regularly unreachable due to high winds and low visibility. However, Cold Bay, located just a few miles away, is home to a 10,000-foot cross-wind runway that is safely accessible during foul weather. These two communities are not connected by road and have the misfortune of being separated by federal land.
Over the past 30 years, multiple deaths have come as a result of attempts to reach the Cold Bay airport by aircraft, as well as countless injuries suffered trying to make the treacherous journey to the airport by boat. As a result, these Alaskans are simply asking the federal government to allow limited road access to an all-weather airport, something that nearly all Americans in the Lower 48 take for granted.
The proposed nine-mile road would connect existing roads, and affect only 1 percent of the Refuge. In exchange for 1,806 acres of federal land, the State of Alaska and local Natives would convey 56,393 acres to the Refuge. Nevertheless, the Fish and Wildlife Service chose to side with the radical environmental community and block reliable access to lifesaving medical care because the construction of a road may damage seaweed and inconvenience a few ducks.
In 40 years as Alaska’s lone representative in the House, I have never seen the federal government turn its back on the health and safety of its residents in such a shameful manner.
However, Secretary Salazar still has an opportunity to reverse a glaring wrong committed by one of the agencies he oversees. The secretary can live up to the president’s vow of“mak[ing] tribal communities safer and stronger,” for Alaska Native villages like King Cove, or he can choose to tarnish his legacy and double-down on a decision that puts waterfowl over the health and well-being of Alaskans. For the sake of those Alaskans living in King Cove, I hope he makes the right choice.
Rep. Don Young is a Republican from Alaska.