Before Sally Jewell had said a word, Sen. Lisa Murkowski spoke for 15 minutes about the road. Murkowski reminded the Interior Secretary she has a trust responsibility to the mostly Aleut population of King Cove.
“The notion from your department that you must protect Alaska from Alaska Natives, our first people, it is … it’s insulting,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski has been hammering Jewell in the press for months over her decision in December rejecting the road, through 10 miles of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to Cold Bay. She advertised her fury today with an Incredible Hulk scarf draped around her shoulders, a nod to the late Sen. Ted Stevens. Murkowski says Jewell has done nothing to advance her promise to look into alternatives for King Cove. At a press conference after the hearing, Murkowski ridiculed Jewell for telling her in a private meeting that she’d made some phone calls about improving marine access for King Cove.
“Well, go talk to the corps of engineers about a breakwater,” Murkowski said, “because I’ve been fighting to get breakwaters and docks in the state of Alaska for the 12 years that I’ve been here, and we’ve got a 20-year backlog. How are you going to get a breakwater?”
Murkowski says she’ll never back off her demand for a King Cove road. She and King Cove leaders on hand for the press conference say a road is the only viable option. King Cove EMT Bonita Babcock says plenty of Americans care about the refuge but too few about her critically ill and injured patients.
“We need people to care enough about their lives, about their beating hearts and to understand that they’re worth more than some eel grass and some ducks,” she said.
Sen. Mark Begich and the King Cove delegation met privately with Jewell yesterday. He and Rep. Don Young agree with Murkowski on the need for the road. At the hearing, Begich questioned Jewell about the road for five minutes, then moved on to other issues, such as contaminated land and the backlog of contract support costs owed to Native health organizations. The Interior Department has a huge role in Alaska. It’s essentially the landlord for 60% of Alaska and oversees the BIA. Murkowski says she will have to work with Jewell on a large number of issues, but she says the road for King Cove is non-negotiable.
Outside the hearing, Jewell reiterated the reason she opposes the road. Jewell says it would run over a sensitive strip of land between two lagoons.
“It is a very, very important and unique habitat, and the determination by the fish and wildlife service is that a road would be very disruptive though that area,” she said.
If Murkowski’s repeated assertions that she’s heartless bother her, Jewell doesn’t show it. She says she respects Murkowski’s passion.
Sen. Lemar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said at the hearing Murkowski and Jewell are both highly respected and would be likely allies if it weren’t for this one issue. Alexander says he hopes they can work out a resolution.
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