The Interior Department has approved a new deal that would allow for the construction of a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
Although the administration believes that the road, which will connect, the small village of King’s Cove to the neighboring town of Cold Bay, which contains a small airport, will expand and speed shipping, opponents are calling it the “road to nowhere.”
Former U.S. Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt said back in 2014 that the road will cost U.S. taxpayers more than $75 million, equivalent to $79,113 per resident of the small town of King’s Cove. The road was initially proposed when Babbitt was Secretary of Interior and President Bill Clinton promised to veto the bill for its cost and the fact that it could set a dangerous precedent as the first new road ever authorized through a Congressional protection wilderness area.
The land swap deal agreed to, but not yet formally signed, will “improve King’s Cove’s access to the closest regional airport” with a 12-mile gravel road to Cold Bay. King’s Cove current houses approximately 925 residents. Cold Bay has a population of 108.
Environmentalists say that the road will beset a stretch of tundra and lagoons that encompass vital feeding grounds for migrating birds and habitats for bears, caribou and other species.
“The Trump administration has approved an unprecedented and illegal proposal to sell out Izembek National Wildlife Refuge,” says Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife.
Millions of taxpayer dollars have already been spent on alternative solutions to the road in order to avoid construction through the refuge. King Cove’s request for a hovercraft and an upgrade to its own health clinic was granted. In 2013, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell vetoed the road for a second time, citing irrevocable damage to natural resources. In 2015 the U.S. District Court of Alaska upheld this decision.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Arkansas, has been fighting for the road for years. Not surprisingly, when reviewing gifts to Murkowski and her political action committee, it was found that she received several donations made by organizations and lobbyists with financial stakes in the construction of the road.
The agreement is expected to be signed later this month by Interior Secretary Ryan ZInke and King Cove Corp., a tribal organization that manages the area. The deal will swap two pieces of land, totaling 2,604 areas of tribal land for land within the Izembark refuge.
The Center for Biological Diversity has announced that it is prepared to fight the agreement in court, as it likely violates the Wilderness Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.