Jewell refuses to hear sense on King Cove road

Paul Jenkins
OPINION: Interior chief just won't hear reason on King Cove road. Pictured: Village of King Cove. Courtesy Aleutians East Borough

If you are laboring under the illusion that the Obama administration and its sycophants on the left care about Alaska Natives in King Cove or anyplace else, you might weigh what her highness, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, has to say: Just get over it.

King Cove, a flyspeck Aleut fishing village at the furthest reaches of the wind-blown Alaska Peninsula, some 600 miles southwest of Anchorage, for decades has sought a 9-mile, single-lane, gravel, connecting road through the 330,000-acre Izembek National Wildlife Refuge wilderness to nearby Cold Bay.

That former World War II military installation boasts an all-weather runway -- Alaska’s second-longest and a priceless asset in a remote region where ferocious weather is the norm. 

Village officials say 19 people -- four in a single 1981 accident -- have died over the years in medevac crashes or waiting helplessly to be evacuated from Cold Bay. Since January, there have been several hair-raising, expensive Coast Guard medical evacuations from the village in lousy weather. The King Cove airstrip is closed an average of about 100 days a year; Cold Bay’s, fewer than 10.

Jewell last Christmas nixed a land swap between Interior, Alaska and the King Cove Corp. that would have made the road possible, turning her back on 56,000 acres with wildlife, oil and natural gas potential -- for 206 acres of refuge land needed for a road. 

Alaska House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt recently attended the National Conference of State Legislatures in Washington, D.C., and he, along with others, met with Jewell. He had the temerity to ask whether she might reconsider. 

Pruitt told Politico she responded: “I wish Alaskans would get over this one issue”; that there are bigger fish to fry. It so perplexed him, he says, he wrote it down.

Jewell’s office, through an anonymous spokescrat the next day denied she said such a thing.

Journalist Amanda Coyne reports Montana Majority Leader Art Wittich was at the meeting, too, and said the King Cove question appeared to rattle Jewell; that he did not remember her specifically saying “get over it,” but he described her attitude as “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”



“A bunch of us in the room were surprised by her response,” he was quoted as saying.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, seeking to have Jewell reopen her record of decision, says the Interior secretary told her virtually the same thing earlier this year. Nobody denies that.

Environmentalists and others, sacrificing their humanity for dogma, have waged a misinformation campaign against the road since Day One, despite the grim statistics. No other Alaska village gets a road, why should King Cove? they ask, as if that somehow makes sense. At the heart of their objections is an abject fear that a gravel track in a refuge where hunting is allowed, even encouraged -- where miles of roads already exist -- amounts to an invitation to strip malls.  

A recent column on these pages carried the headline, “King Cove road issue masks pro-development power grab.” Holy smokes! “What King Cove has that those other villages lack is a narrative that allows the pro-business, pro-mining, pro-development agenda to be portrayed as concern for the health and safety of downtrodden villagers,” the writer said. Nothing about the 19 dead, downtrodden villagers, though.

It gets worse. A recent television news story featured a road opponent in Cold Bay suggesting King Cove residents just want someplace to drive their cars. Another featured a guy warning that residents would get drunk and hurt themselves on such a road.

When Jewell nixed the land swap saying she wanted to protect waterfowl and eel grass beds -- mind you, extensive military operations over the years, hunters and vehicle traffic have had no effect -- she promised to help villagers find an alternative way to reach Cold Bay. She has done diddly-squat.

Congress has wasted $37.5 million as sop to environmentalists to dodge building the road. A hovercraft too expensive to operate. Clinic improvements. Airstrip fixes. Name it. Nothing beats a road.

Congress in 2009 approved the swap and road, but required an environmental assessment. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the road without specifically saying how it would hurt the refuge. Jewell let it stand. Now, King Cove and the state are suing.

It is enough to make you want to channel Wally Hickel. Crank up the Cats.

Her highness will get over it.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.