Trump’s Interior secretary takes first baby step on King Cove road

There was a bit of a victory Monday for supporters of a proposed road in Southwest Alaska that would connect the village of King Cove to an airport at Cold Bay via the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

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U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, appointed by President Donald Trump and confirmed in March, announced Monday morning that his department has issued a permit for a study on where to put the road.

The state of Alaska’s position is that a road through Izembek is necessary for medical emergencies. In bad weather King Cove’s airport is inaccessible, and residents must use boats or helicopters to get to the airport in the neighboring community of Cold Bay.

In an interview Monday, Gov. Bill Walker said last summer he heard many stories of injured, sick and elderly King Cove residents risking their lives to get medical treatment.

“(The road) is going to save lives,” Walker said. “And so, this is a good first step of many steps, but we’re glad it’s being taken.”

The state has long sought authorization from the federal government to build the 11-mile road.

Zinke’s predecessor, Sally Jewell, was Interior secretary under President Barack Obama and visited King Cove in 2013. Later that year, she decided a road would cause irreversible damage to the refuge and the wildlife that depend on it.

The area is an important feeding and resting spot for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl, including nearly the entire populations, worldwide, of several bird species.

Village resident and King Cove Corporation spokeswoman Della Trumble said, for the human residents in the area, the road is a life-or-death issue.

And, even after Monday’s announcement, Trumble said she’s not holding her breath.

“A good part of our lives has been advocating for this road for this community,” Trumble said. “I tell you, after being involved in this for so long, that, until I see the signing on the paperwork– it’s been a long battle.”

Alaska’s congressional delegation continues to push for approval of federal legislation in the U.S. House and Senate seeking the road.