ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – It’s been a whirlwind first trip to Alaska for U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who has yet to make any commitment to building a road from King Cove to Cold Bay, but said a response could be coming soon.
“I don’t have a hard deadline,” Haaland said during a news conference on Thursday. “I think it’s in the somewhat near future.”
Earlier in the week, Haaland visited King Cove, and it was a long-awaited trip after she had previously postponed it due to concerns over COVID-19. She toured the small southwestern Alaskan city alongside Sen. Lisa Murkowski, with Gov. Mike Dunleavy also in attendance.
“I wanted to go to hear, to visit with the community, to see the geography and understand the challenges that they face,” Haaland said.
During the visit, residents urged Haaland to build the long-requested road between King Cove and Cold Bay.
“We’re not asking for a lot. 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 nearby Cold Bay),” King Cove community health-aide practitioner Bonita Babcock was quoted in a statement from the Aleutians East Borough.
Aleutians East Borough Communications Director Laura Tanis wrote in the statement that 18 deaths have been associated with a lack of land access since 1980, and that the 10,000 foot paved runway in Cold Bay is more suitable for transporting people in need of medical care to Anchorage.
A decision over whether or not to build a road has loomed for years. Advocates say it would save lives, since residents would finally be able to better access the all-weather airport in Cold Bay. But it all hinges on permission from the federal government, since a portion of the road would go through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
“We’ll see if the request of the people of King Cove and the testimony made an impact,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in an interview.
Dunleavy said he didn’t speak with Secretary Haaland privately in King Cove, but hopes he’ll have an opportunity to speak with her in Fairbanks on Friday.
While many support the construction of the road, conservationists and environmental groups are among those who have long protested the potential project, pointing in part to possible impacts on the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
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