Rural Alaska

Judge blocks 4 of 5 claims against federal rejection of King Cove road

A federal judge dismissed three claims and a portion of a fourth out of the five claims the city of King Cove and the state brought against the federal government over its decision to prevent construction of a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

But U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland allowed a key claim to stand -- an allegation that the Interior secretary did not follow the National Environmental Policy Act in rejecting a land transfer. In addition, he said that a challenge that procedural requirements were not met can continue.

King Cove, with about 950 residents, alleges that the 18-mile road is needed to get access to the Cold Bay airport for health and safety reasons.

The village and state argued that preventing the road is a violation of the environmental protection law.

"Plaintiffs allege that the lack of safe and reliable transportation between King Cove and the Cold Bay airport has put the health and safety of King Cove residents who need to be medivaced at risk," Holland wrote.

He said that while risks to health and safety do not always fall under the Environmental Protection Act, they do if there is a connection to the physical environment.

King Cove and the state claim that the Interior Department overstated the environmental harm that would be caused by a road.

Holland said that because the claims have a connection to the physical environment, the NEPA claim is "plausible." He dismissed claims that the rejection of the land transfer violated other federal laws, agreeing with the Interior Department and the environmental groups.