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King's Cove, Alaska
Sen. Lisa Murkowski wants a medical-emergencies road built to remote
 King's Cove in the Aleutian archipelago. The Fish & Wildlife Service does not.
A furious Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is thinking about putting a procedural hold on the nomination of Sally Jewell to replace Ken Salazar as secretary of the Department of the Interior.

Her possible move in the matter stems not from any objection she has to Jewell, who once contributed $500 to Murkowski's election campaign. It is instead a response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's preliminary decision to reject plans to build an emergencies-only road through the wetlands of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to the remote village of King Cove in the eastern Aleutian archipelago. Murkowski, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, made her complaints known in a 30-minute speech on the Senate floor Thursday.

She said the decision, which will not be finalized for at least 30 days, was "so wrongheaded and so short-sighted...and so wrong to the people who call this home." Those people are 748 members of the Agdaagux Tribe, one of only five remaining eastern Aleut villages in Alaska. The safety of these people, she and other critics say, are being sacrificed in favor of animals that would be affected by the road.

The Fish & Wildlife Service, which is part of the Interior department, announced with delivery of its final environmental impact statement Tuesday that it has rejected the road. In a press release:

“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s preferred alternative would protect the heart of a pristine landscape that congress designated as wilderness and that serves as vital habitat for grizzly bear, caribou and salmon, shorebirds and waterfowl—including 98 percent of the world’s population of Pacific black brant,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. [...]

The permanent road would fragment undisturbed habitat for grizzly bear, caribou and salmon, and would compromise the protections offered to waterfowl and shorebirds. At the heart of the areas protected are internationally significant eelgrass beds in Izembek and Kinzarof lagoons, as well as adjacent uplands of the isthmus. [...]

Based on this analysis, the Service has selected Alternative 1, the no action alternative, as the preferred alternative.

Of the possible hold, Murkowski told The Hill: “It may be that I have got to make threats, it may be that I have got to hold something up. I am hoping that I don’t have to.” She said she had discussed the matter with Jewell when the nominee made a touching-bases phone call Thursday.

Displaying maps and photos on an easel, Murkowski explained in her Senate speech that the road is meant only for medical emergencies, specifically to allow patients to reach the all-weather airport in Cold Bay, which boasts Alaska's fifth longest runway 20 miles from King Cove. The road would be a single lane, gravel road, 10 miles of which would cut through the refuge. Read more details about the situation below the fold.

Although King Cove has an airport with a short runway, it is plagued by downdrafts and crosswinds that have caused a number of aircraft to crash, including a medevac helicopter in which the pilot, patient, nurse and nurse's assistant were killed. Medevac personnel won't fly into the airport now, which spurred the U.S. Coast Guard to take patients from the village five times in 2012. Using a Hovercraft for 30 emergencies from 2007 to 2010 proved to be too expensive for the village, which is served by a clinic run by the Indian Health Service. The clinic has medical personnel, but no physician.

A road has been discussed for two decades, but other alternatives were employed instead, including millions to upgrade the clinic, extend the runway and buy the $9 million Hovercraft. Four years ago, Congress approved a land exchange between the federal government, King Cove and the state of Alaska. The transfer would add 56,000 acres to the refuge in exchange for 1,800 acres, 206 of which the road would be built on.

The final decision will be made by whomever is running the Interior department 30 days from now after the public comment period on the impact statement is over. If Murkowski decides to put a hold on Jewell, that will be Salazar.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 01:52 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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