Residents of King Cove on the Alaska Peninsula are still waiting for a decision by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on whether she will approve a land exchange and completion of a gravel road leading to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay.
King Cove, with fewer than 1,000 permanent residents, is the home of a major Peter Pan Seafood processing facility that operates all but about two weeks of the year, processing a variety of seafood.
Residents have been trying for years to have a road between King Cove and Cold Bay built that would allow for ground transportation in stormy weather to so people with medical emergencies can reach the providers they need.
The route for completion of the road goes through a small area of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, an area several conservation entities want to remain off-limits to protect eel grass sought by migrating waterfowl as they move north annually. Conservation groups oppose a swap of lands owned by the King Cove Corp. for acreage in Izembek, without which the road cannot be completed.
King Cove Corp. CEO Della Trumble has said that the effort, spanning several decades, to get a road has gone on too long.
“All we can do is remain hopeful and wait and see,” she said.
Haaland visited King Cove on April 20 to hear first-hand from residents stories of those whose lives were saved thanks to emergency air evacuations. Since December 2013 there have been 175 medevacs. Since, 1980, there have been 18 deaths of patients who were not able to be transported due to weather conditions, according to King Cove Corp.
“We’re not asking for a lot,” King Cove community health aide Bonita Babcock told Haaland. “We’re just asking for the federal government to care about our people enough to permit a dirt road across our ancestral land so that we can get our patients over to a medevac plane” in Cold Bay, the hub airport in the Aleutian Islands, about 25 miles away.
Babcock told Haaland that her visit to King Cove was monumental.
“Please take our feelings and know that this is coming from the bottom or our hearts. We’re doing our best to serve our patients, but we just need a little help,” she said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who accompanied Haaland on the trip, remarked that federal and state officials do take the situation very seriously.
“You are a long ways from Washington, D.C., but you are of no less value than anybody else in America,” she said. “Anyone else in America would have the ability to have a small connector road linking them to safety. Thank you for speaking from your heart and for sharing the best of King Cove with our very important visitor.”