Like a Bering Sea superstorm shrieking across the Alaska Peninsula, a furious Rep. Don Young laid into Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Thursday about her decision to reject a potentially life-saving road through an Alaska refuge.
“I think your decision stunk,” Young said during a hearing in the House, wagging a finger at Jewell.
But that was just part of the tirade. At one point during the exchange, Young and Jewell tangled over whether urbanized birds in Washington, D.C., are genetically similar to those in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge on the Alaska Peninsula. In December, Jewell refused to allow a dozen miles of gravel road to slice through the refuge and link the village of King Cove with Cold Bay and its all-weather airport. King Cove leaders have long sought a road, saying it will save lives by allowing sick and injured residents to quickly reach a medevac flight to hospitals in Anchorage, more than 600 miles to the northeast.
Jewell has recently suggested that a full-time U.S. Coast Guard presence in King Cove would help the village and eliminate the need for an emergency access road.
Young demanded that Jewell explain where the Interior Department would get the money to pay for the costly helicopter rescues.
Jewell didn’t answer the question, but Young, cutting her off, didn’t give her much opportunity.
“You have not allowed this, and I’m losing lives,” he snapped. “I just think that’s very inappropriate. And by the way, does a helicopter bother the birds on that refuge?”
“Sir, I’m sure when a helicopter is flying it bothers birds on the refuge,” Jewell replied.
“Just like birds out here on the George Washington Parkway? We have thousands of cars go by and they’re about 6 feet from the road? The birds get used to it.”
Jewell said Izembek is a unique wetland of critical international significance, and the birds there are different than those in the Potomac River.
“They are no different, they are the same type of birds, same species as far as genetically goes and you and I know that,” said Young.
“No sir, the Pacific black brant...” Jewell began.
“There is exactly the same attitude, they get used to it," he said of the refuge bird, saying there's already traffic in the refuge from dozens of miles of roads.
At another point, a sarcastic Young said Jewell and another top Interior official would be “outstanding” performers on the hit TV program, “Dancing with the Stars.”
“I love your answers; (it’s) dancing,” Young said with a sneer and twinkling fingers, chiding Jewell and another top Interior official for what he believes are their evasive answers. Young asked Jewell to imagine her two grown children dying and stuck in King Cove during an 80 mph blow.
“This Congress passed the ability to build that road, and your son is dying. I hope you feel good about that. I really do,” Young said.
He added that she should be ashamed of herself when someone dies in King Cove.