The battle over road access for medical emergencies from the Aleutians fishing village of King Cove to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay appears to again be reaching a conclusion, but it’s not over yet.
A spokesperson for the Aleutians East Borough confirms that an agreement has been reached on a land exchange between the Interior Department and the King Cove Corp. that would allow for completion of some 11–12 miles of road connecting the two communities.
Residents of King Cove, home of a large Peter Pan Seafoods processing facility that operates year-round, support road access to the all-weather airport because weather conditions often make travel by plane or even boat between the two communities dangerous. While a flight between King Cove and Cold Bay in light aircraft in good weather takes well under an hour, travel on a fishing tender or other commercial fishing vessels in rough weather can take up to three hours.
Between 1980 and 1994, a dozen people died during medevac attempts. Since then there have been 68 evacuations by boat or air, with no further fatalities, according to city administrator Gary Hennigh.
Several environmental groups, including The Wilderness Society, say putting a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge would cause irreversible harm to the environment and have vowed to challenge the matter in court. Proponents of the road say the route can be completed without causing harm to the environment and area wildlife, including migrating waterfowl, who are legally targeted in the refuge by sport hunters.
According to Laura Tanis, public information officer for the Aleutians East Borough, a formal agreement is to be signed in Washington D.C. later this month, followed by a land appraisal process expected to take several months, and beyond that decisions are still to be worked out on the amount of acreage to be exchanged, the route of the connecting road, and construction dates.