Tribes, local governments, and residents from the King Cove region are suing federal officials for denying them the right to build a road through a wildlife refuge.
King Cove residents have been arguing for years that the road would be the easiest, safest way to get to emergency medevac flights at the all-weather airstrip in Cold Bay.
They didn’t stop arguing when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell decided not to allow a land swap in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in December. That had been the best hope for getting a road built.
“We’re at the point where we can’t let this go, and we’ve got to keep moving forward,” says Della Trumble.
She’s a spokeswoman for the King Cove Corporation and the Agdaagux Tribe. They are two of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that was filed Wednesday in United States District Court in Anchorage.
The complaint alleges that the Interior Department’s decision to reject the road violates the Constitution and several federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
This isn’t the first legal action by advocates of the road. In April, the State of Alaska announced that it may sue the federal government for a right-of-way through the refuge based on historic use.
But Della Trumble says that’s a separate case.
“They are related in some ways, but they are not the same,” Trumble says. “Part of this lawsuit is basically that saying that the EIS that was submitted to the Secretary is inaccurate.”
Trumble is referring to the environmental impact statement, which was completed in 2013. The Interior Secretary used that document to make her final determination on the land swap.
Trumble argues that the EIS didn’t provide a full picture.
“The EIS technically falls heavily on the side of the US Fish and Wildlife in regard to the wilderness,” Trumble says. “It does not take into consideration the human factor and the health and safety issues that revolve around it, as directed by Congress.”
This spring, Trumble and several other King Cove officials traveled to Washington, DC. They wanted to lobby the Interior Secretary to reconsider her decision. In return, Secretary Jewell requested a report, explaining why a road is the only viable option to get from King Cove to Cold Bay during medical emergencies.
Trumble says the King Cove group turned it in almost two months ago.
“But we have not had any communication or response from [Jewell] to this point,” Trumble says.
That’s not acceptable, according to Robert Dillon. He’s a spokesman for Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has criticized the Obama administration for its handling of the road.
“They want the people of King Cove to go away and stop bothering them,” Dillon says. “And that’s the most important thing – is to keep reminding them that this issue remains alive and that the people of King Cove are not going to go away until their children and families are safe.”
A representative for the Interior Department declined to comment because of the pending litigation.
The defendants on the lawsuit include Interior Secretary Jewell, along with the assistant secretaries for Indian Affairs and Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Izembek refuge are also listed.