Gov. Bill Walker recently asked the Trump Administration (May 25) and the Alaska Legislature to support the proposed King Cove-Izembek road. Based on documented misrepresentations and disingenuous justifications, this environmentally-destructive road would waste our tax dollars and transfer $10 million of state highway funds from an approved project in Fairbanks. Proponents claim the road would be the only way to reach Cold Bay’s all-weather airport for emergency medical evacuations. Actually, the road was originally proposed to provide ground transportation for workers and products of Japanese-owned Peter Pan Seafoods. Their website states, “nearly 500 employees man the operation. King Cove’s economy depends almost completely on the year-round commercial fishing and seafood processing industries.” In 2015, median King Cove household income was $64,405, compared to only $51,914 for the entire nation. Road proponents have long sought to further these economic interests by hiding their true motives under a claim of health and safety.
This long paper trail reveals that the proposed Izembek road has always been to haul fish:
1) King Cove stated that the road would link the salmon cannery in King Cove with one of the state’s premier airports at Cold Bay (City of King Cove, Resolution 94-26, 5/18/94). Notably absent was any reference to the health and safety concerns.
2) In 1995, Gov. Tony Knowles said that “he favored … a 20-mile road between King Cove and Cold Bay for transporting salmon to a community with a runway that could handle large planes.” (Daily Sitka Sentinel, 6/7/95).
3) In 2010, AEB assemblyman and brother of AEB’s mayor stated that Peter Pan Seafoods would use the road to transport “fresh product.” (USFWS, Izembek EIS Public Scoping Meeting – King Cove, AK, 4/29/10).
4) In 2011, vocal road proponent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said, “The decades-old push to get the road built between King Cove and the Cold Bay Airport so that we can have greater access for transportation is going to be a critical ingredient in that thriving economic future going out for the next 100 years.” (AEB, In the Loop, 12/2/11).
5) Walker’s May 25 request disclosed the real purpose of the road, “Access for isolated King Cove residents to the airport at Cold Bay in all weather conditions, enabling access to health services and movement of goods and people between King Cove and Cold Bay.”
King Cove’s health and safety concerns were solved in 1998. Because of the scientifically-documented, extensive environmental damage that would be caused by a road punched through the biological heart of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and the unprecedented overturning of congressionally-designated Wilderness, then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens crafted the compromise King Cove Health and Safety Act of 1998, to which King Cove and AEB had agreed. AEB received $37.5 million to upgrade King Cove’s medical facilities to state-of-the-art and purchase the Suna-X hovercraft capable of transporting passengers and freight, including an ambulance, to Cold Bay in 20 minutes. During 2007-2010, the hovercraft successfully completed more than 30 medevacs in approximately 20 minutes. AEB Mayor Stanley Mack called it a ”life-saving machine.”
The road is plagued by deep snow drifts, icing, high winds, avalanches and pounding waves. Dr. Peter Mjos, former medical director for the Eastern Aleutians Tribes wrote, “the road is the Great Irony — that construction of this road to ostensibly save lives, and for health and safety, in reality poses grave dangers, and is a very real threat to life itself … any vehicle or ambulance attempting to transit or rescue in such conditions could be suicidal, rescue impossible, rescuers gravely imperiled.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers evaluated transportation alternatives that are safer, faster, more reliable, and less impactful to the refuge (King Cove-Cold Bay: Assessment of Non-Road Alternatives, June 18, 2015).
Over $50 million federal dollars have already been spent on the upgrades to the King Cove medical clinic, the hovercraft and the existing road to a hovercraft launching facility. Another $30 million for a road totals $79,286 per King Cove resident, plus annual maintenance of at least $675,000.
The state of Alaska, politicians, and others should abandon their misleading campaign for an ill-conceived road and ensure that our precious resources are utilized for wise investments that meet legitimate state needs.
• David Raskin is a 22-year resident of Homer and is the president of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges.