King Cove and feds reach deal on controversial road

King Cove residents argue they need the road to access the all-weather airport in Cold Bay, but environmentalists believe it will do irreparable harm to critical wildlife habitat. (Photo by Berett Wilber/KUCB)

The city of King Cove has reached a deal with the Trump administration to build a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, according to the city.

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King Cove residents have argued they need the road to access the all-weather airport in Cold Bay, but environmental groups think it will ruin critical wildlife habitat.

King Cove City Administrator Gary Hennigh said recently the city has reached an agreement with the Interior Department for a land swap between the King Cove Corporation and the federal government. Hennigh said he expects the deal to be signed January 22 in Washington D.C.

“The whole community is excited because after 30 years we do believe this can now happen,” Hennigh said.

King Cove residents say they need the road because bad weather can leave people stranded during medical emergencies. But the 12 mile gravel road would pass through what now is designated wilderness, the highest level of conservation given to federal lands.

Environmental groups like Defenders of Wildlife say they will challenge the agreement in court.

“We will not stand by while some of the world’s most vital wildlife habitat is ripped from public ownership to satisfy commercial interests,” said the group’s president, Jamie Rappaport Clark, in a press release.

In 2013, former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected the idea of the road, saying it would cause irreparable harm to the refuge and the wildlife that depends on it.

Hennigh is not worried about legal battles with environmental groups.

“We have known that that is going to be there. It has always been there,” Hennigh said. “We are comfortable in believing once it is known what the agreement has in it, we are confident that we will prevail.”

The Interior Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Once the deal is signed, Hennigh said it will likely take up to six months to study the best route for the road and appraise the land.

Then, Hennigh said, King Cove will be looking to the State of Alaska to fund construction of the road, estimated at $22 million. In a best-case scenario, he says the road would be completed by 2020.

Zoe Sobel is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk based in Unalaska. As a high schooler in Portland, Maine, Zoë Sobel got her first taste of public radio at NPR’s easternmost station. From there, she moved to Boston where she studied at Wellesley College and worked at WBUR, covering sports for Only A Game and the trial of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

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