Interior Secretary: “I’ve Listened to Your Stories, Now I Have to Listen to the Animals.”

From the Anchorage Daily news:

“U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Monday rejected a proposal for a one-lane gravel road linking the isolated community of King Cove with the all-weather airport in Cold Bay some 22 miles away.

Jewell’s decision puts an end for now to a contentious, years-long federal review of plans to put the road through the middle of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to serve King Cove’s 950 residents.

King Cove has a clinic, but no hospital or doctor. Residents must fly 600 miles to Anchorage, via Cold Bay’s World War II airstrip, for most medical procedures including serious trauma cases and childbirth. Frequent gale-force winds and thick fog often delay or jeopardize medevac flights…

Over the years, more than a dozen people needing medical help have died in plane crashes or because they couldn’t get treatment in time, according to a community statement released Monday.

Etta Kuzakin, a 36-year-old King Cove resident who serves as Agdaagux tribal president, needed an emergency Caesarean section in March after going into early labor with her now 9-month-old daughter, Sunnie Rae. Giving birth in King Cove could have killed her and her baby, she said.

But with medevac flights grounded by ugly weather, Kuzakin waited in labor for 10 hours until the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter flew her out in the afternoon.

“If there had been a road, it would be two hours out,” she said. “I sat there in labor not knowing if I was going to die or my kid was going to die. Pretty traumatic.”

Jewell’s review of the project follows a February decision against the road from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an Interior agency. It found the road could irreparably damage both habitat and subsistence activities at Izembek, a narrow isthmus of land between two lagoons that holds nearly all the world’s population of Pacific black brant — a small goose — as well as grizzlies, caribou, salmon and millions of shorebirds and waterfowl…

In her decision, Jewell rejected a proposed land exchange with the state of Alaska that originated in 2009 under former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a necessary first step to build a road that would have transferred more than 56,000 of state and Alaska Native land to the refuge in exchange for access to the road corridor…

A champion of the road for years, Murkowski, R-Alaska, threatened in March to hold up Jewell’s confirmation over the Obama Administration’s opposition to the road…

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich called the decision disappointing but not surprising. Gov. Sean Parnell, in his statement, called the decision “unconscionable” and another “irrational decision by the federal government that denies Alaskans access — in this case access to emergency treatment.”

Jewell and Murkowski traveled to King Cove in late August to hear from community members and flew over the refuge to get a glimpse of where the road corridor would connect with existing roads built during World War II.

Jewell, in a statement Monday, said her decision was based in part on her August visit, as well as a report from Kevin Washburn, the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, regarding the medical evacuation benefits of the proposed road.” reports what the Interior Secretary actually said during the August meeting: “She stood up in the gymnasium and told those kids, ‘I’ve listened to your stories, now I have to listen to the animals,” Democratic state Rep. Bob Herron told a local television station. “You could have heard a pin drop in that gymnasium.”

I couldn’t make this up if I tried – chalk this up to reality is often stranger than fiction.


Is it the burrito you ate for lunch, or the tree saying make me into shelves?


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