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Alaska’s lone Representative, Don Young, led efforts to pass HR218, The King Cove Land Exchange Act, the long-sought legislation to allow the building of a road between King Cove to Cold Bay, resulted in success with a vote of 248-179 on Thursday morning.
In a statement following the vote, Representative Young said:
“This is truly an issue of life or death for the residents of the isolated community of King Cove. For over 30 years, they have fought for the approval an 11-mile, non-commercial use, gravel road to the community of Cold Bay, AK in order to access an all-weather airport during medical emergencies. Sadly, this legislation is only necessary because of the heartless actions of the previous administration, which denied previous efforts by Congress to authorize the construction of this road. That decision, which placed the interests of environmentalists and wildlife over human life, was one of the worst government actions I’ve seen in all my years. I thank all those that stood by the people of King Cove to support the passage of this commonsense legislation. Without question, it will save lives. The people of King Cove have fought for over 30 years for safe and reliable access to emergency care and it’s past time we make it a reality. Frankly, I will not rest until we do.”
The road from King Cove to Cold Bay has been sought for decades. With an inadequate air strip in the community, flights called for emergency medevac, through the years have been delayed or cancelled, resulting in deaths and people’s health being medically impacted.
While residents of King Cove, many times are transported by boat to King Cove, and at one time even had a craft specific for transport between the two locations, it was also found to be cost prohibitive.
The 11-mile road to Cold Bay 25 miles away, would link up with existing roads in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
In 2009, Congress and President Obama approved a 61,000 acre land-swap between the state and King Cove in order to push the road through. But, in 2015, U.S. District Court Holland ruled against the King Cove Group, and Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell turned down the residents of King Cove citing the environmental impacts the road would cause.
Upon hearing of the House vote in Washington, Governor Bill Walker praised Representative Young for his efforts. “I thank Congressman Young for accomplishing this important milestone,” Governor Walker said. “While the work is not yet finished, the passage of H.R. 218 is a critical step towards actually building this necessary and life-saving road. State and federal agencies, our congressional delegation, and the residents of King Cove are continuing to work well towards this shared goal, and I look forward to seeing additional progress.”
Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan commended Representative Young for todays legislative success, they both issued statements.
“I commend Congressman Young for his leadership and for bringing a life-saving road for the people of King Cove one step closer to reality,” Senator Murkowski said. “After years of needless suffering, including 63 medevacs since December 2013 alone, I am grateful to have bipartisan support in Congress and – finally – an administration that understands why a road is the best and only option to truly protect the health and safety of local residents.”
“The federal government has for years been telling the people of King Cove that protecting birds is more important than their health and safety,” Senator Sullivan said.“This is unconscionable. I thank Congressman Don Young for his fierce determination to get this bill passed in the House, and will work with Senator Lisa Murkowski to pass it in the Senate. The residents of King Cove deserve nothing less.”
The legislation will now move to the Senate, where Senators Murkowski and Sullivan will continue working to move the bill through the higher chamber.