Sen. Lisa Murkowski has promised to continue fighting for a road connecting King Cove to Cold Bay.
In her annual address before the State Legislature on Wednesday, Murkowski described the Interior Department’s decision to block the project as “heartless and wrong.” She called it an extreme case of federal overreach.
“Now the King Cove decision is more than a road,” Murkowski said. “I think we all recognize it is more than a road. It is emblematic as to how the federal government believes that it has to somehow protect Alaska from Alaskans.”
The contentious 10-mile gravel road would run through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. King Cove residents have long asked for the connection to a nearby airport as a matter of public safety. The Interior Department and environmental groups believe the road would damage bird habitat and set a bad precedent for refuges.
Murkowski has made construction of the road a major priority, recommending a land swap that would allow the project to go through. Last year, she escorted Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to King Cove to show her how difficult it is to medevac people from the remote community.
Murkowski got applause from state lawmakers when she said she plans to keep the pressure on.
“I have been told to get past this issue. Let’s just get past this issue. Let me tell you: That is not going happen,” said Murkowski. “In addition to my role as mediator, and ambassador, and all that, I can also be a hell-raiser. And I am going to be a hell-raiser on this. I am going to channel my inner Ted Stevens, and we are going to get this road.”
After her speech to the Legislature, Murkowski told reporters she may put holds on future nominations by President Barack Obama until the road issue is addressed.
Sen. Murkowski said she also is closely watching the upcoming appointment of an Arctic representative.
Secretary of State John Kerry last week told Murkowski and Sen. Mark Begich that he planned to name a Special Representative for the Arctic Region. He said it would be a “high-level individual of substantial stature and expertise,” and asked for the delegation’s input.
“We are all Ambassadors as we talk about the U.S. as an Arctic nation because of Alaska,” Murkowski told lawmakers.
She said the U.S. Arctic representative shouldn’t be relegated to the “kids’ table.”
If the U.S. is to be viewed as a leader on Arctic issues, Murkowski said, the person who holds the new position must have gravitas, be a recognized authority on all-things Arctic and have the authority within the Obama administration to act.
She said she wants to ensure the person is sitting at the table and on par with other nations’ Arctic ambassadors.
Watch U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s address courtesy of Gavel Alaska: