Update (Tuesday, 6:45 p.m.) — Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media
The U.S. Interior Department has already signed a new land swap agreement for a King Cove road, days after it gave up its appeal of a court ruling that its prior agreement violated federal law.
Alaska Public Media has obtained a copy of the new agreement, signed earlier this month by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and the CEO of King Cove Corporation. (Read more.)
The federal government has dropped its appeal in the King Cove road case.
For now, that leaves in place U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason’s decision blocking a land exchange for a road corridor through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
Gleason ruled in March that former U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke didn’t adequately explain his decision when he reversed course and approved the land exchange after his predecessor denied it.
“When Secretary Zinke signed that land exchange agreement, he didn’t really address those prior findings and didn’t have any real findings of fact or record to rely on,” said Trustees for Alaska attorney Bridget Psarianos, who represents environmental groups in the case. “And that’s just not how administrative agencies are permitted to make decisions.”
The federal government appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but Psarianos said even then Interior Department officials suggested they might seek a different legal approach to building the road, so Psarianos doesn’t think the issue is over.
“Whatever options they consider, we’ll be taking a close look at and be on the ready for,” said the attorney.
Psarianos and her clients argue a road would damage the refuge and the wildlife species that rely on it.
Interior officials weren’t available for interviews on Monday.
People in King Cove have for years sought a road through the refuge so they can get to Cold Bay, which has a much larger runway and more regular air service. Road proponents say denying the community that access endangers lives in a medical emergency.