Another judge tosses land swap for King Cove road

A view of King Cove, which could build a road through the Izembek Refuge. (Photo by Berett Wilber/KUCB)

A U.S. District Court judge has again thrown out a land exchange intended to allow a road for King Cove through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. 

It’s the second time in just over a year that the Interior Department’s land trade failed to pass muster in court, and it’s another turn in a long political quest.

The Obama administration found the ecological damage would be too great to merit putting a road through a protected wilderness area. But President Trump’s first Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, announced he would approve a land exchange anyway.

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason found Zinke reversed the government’s policy “without providing any reasoned explanation for this change.” She threw out Zinke’s agreement.

So the next Interior secretary, David Bernhardt, proposed a new land exchange, and this one cited new studies and reports to justify reversing the Obama administration, such as the cost of Coast Guard rescues, and the challenges of going by sea.

Environmental groups sued again. This time, Judge John Sedwick decided the case. Sedwick said the studies cited don’t provide enough new information to warrant the reversal. Sedwick declared the secretary’s decision arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

The decision is a big loss for King Cove. Leaders there have been trying for decades to get a road to Cold Bay and its all-weather airport. Alaska’s congressional delegation have pushed for the road, too. In an emergency, they say, life and limb depends on reliable access, and King Cove is often weathered in.