Federal Rejection of Refuge Road Emblematic of Alaska’s Colonial Status   2 comments

Alaskan outrage grows as the need for the King Cove to Cold Bay road through the Izembek Refuge nearly cost of the life a 63-year-old resident of that Alaskan village.

It’s ironic that the president administration that bet its legacy on health care insurance coverage for all would then turn around and deny the most basic access (transportation), but that’s what we have right now.

I’m no fan of Lisa Murkowski, but she got a cheer from my family last night when, on national television, she said she wouldn’t object or stand in the way of King Cove residents who decide they have had enough and opt for “civil disobedience” in this case. The work on the road to Tanana illustrates that the villagers need not wait for permission to start building the road.

Federal lands belong to the people and the people of Alaska have too long acquiesced to the demands of a distant, uninterested and tyrannyical government. If the people of King Cove take their chainsaws into the refuge this summer and start clearing a pioneer road, Alaskans will be with them in spirit and some may join them in truth.

Environmental groups bitterly oppose a one-lane road that would be accessed only by King Cove residents for these sorts of emergencies. In 1997, Congress appropriated $37.5 million for water access to Cold Bay, including a $9 million hovercraft. They say that should be enough. The problem is that hovercraft do not work in high seas — well, actually, they don’t work on anything but placid seas. The Cold Bay area gets gale force winds on regular occasions. It is against federal law to fly helicopters over refuge lands. When the seas proved too dangerous to sealift the sick villager, a Coast Guard cutter moved in as close as possible and dispatched a helicopter, endangering the lives of everyone on board. Needed care was delayed for several hours and the patient was reported in critical condition yesterday.

The only thing standing in the way of a road is a federal government that believes it must protect Alaska from Alaskans, that we cannot be trusted to be good stewards of the land we love and have raised our children to honor and respect. Pretty birds remain more important than people to the Obama administration. 

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell’s decision is emblematic of Alaska’s colonial relationship with the federal government. In October, Alaska will have been a state for 55 years. We have the most stringent state environmental laws and regulations of the 50 states, although not nearly as complicated as California’s. What exactly must we do to prove that we care about our state’s environment at least as much as people who do not live here think they do? When exactly can we be trusted to act like a grown-up state?

If the answer is that we can never be trusted, then maybe we should take steps to reevaluate this relationship.

2 responses to “Federal Rejection of Refuge Road Emblematic of Alaska’s Colonial Status

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  1. I haven’t heard about the issue of the refuge road… I’d be interested to hear more about it. And it’s scary that the 63-year-old resident almost lost his/her life. How was that related to the road?
    Just trying to understand…


    • Welcome, fellow Fairbanksan!

      It’s been a story of varying size for about 35 years. King Cove and Cold Bay are less than 20 miles apart, but King Cove is isolated by water and the Izembek Refuge. A road was planned after statehood, but when Carter locked up the d-2 lands, it was delayed. The state and Native Corporation offered a land swap in the 1990s and rumor has it that the feds accepted the deal unofficially, then issued the “roadless rule” for refuges instead. The feds then built King Cove a sea dock and purchased a hovercraft. The State built an airport. The hovercraft has never worked because of the heavy seas. The airport only works when the winds aren’t howling. When this story reignited last fall when Jewell was making her decision, there were vague stories about people dying because they couldn’t get out and I read one harrowing tale of them taking someone out in a zodiak in big waves. But this week there was a verifiable incident.


      Our local newspaper has done the best job of boiling the issue down.


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