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H.R. 218, The King Cove Road Land Exchange Act, is once again on the table. Pushed by the Alaska delegation, the legislation would force the secretary of the Interior to allow Alaska to build a gravel road 12 miles through the heart of the pristine Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. This road would connect King Cove with Cold Bay, population 122.The argument for the road is the need for ambulances to reach King Cove by road. This has come up before, but in the past, the community agreed to an offer by the Clinton administration to provide a hovercraft and upgrade the town's medical facilities. In exchange, the community dropped the demand for the road.
Izembek is near the very tip of the Alaskan peninsula, the part that points out toward the Aleutian Islands. That makes it an ideal stopping off point for migratory birds. For the Pacific black brant goose, Izembek is the last rest stop before flying non-stop to Mexico for the winter. Izembek is also crucial to the Steller eider, a rare and beautiful species of duck. The refuge was designated as a wetland of international importance in 1986 under the Ramsar Convention on wetlands.
Even so, Congress enacted legislation in 2009 to require extensive studies of the proposed road, the impact on Izembek, and the state land that the legislation would swap for the roadway. This legislation required the secretary of the Interior to approve the road if it was in the public interest. Expert scientists in and out of the Fish and Wildlife Service, concluded that the road made no sense and that the unique value of the land that the road would damage could not be compensated with the addition of other, less environmentally vital land. After reviewing the evidence, Interior Secretary Jewell determined in 2013 that the road made no sense and would cause irreparable damage.
But here we are again. The House approved H.R. 217 on 20 July 2017.
There is a companion bill pending in the Senate.
Of course, the president has now threatened to withhold support from any legislation pushed by the Alaska delegation, now that Senator Murkowski has refused to vote for the various versions of health care bills that have been considered in recent weeks, but then again, maybe not. So if you oppose this legislation, it is time to call your senators.