Boondoggle road project in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge would set dangerous precedent

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Wetland area in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge on the Alaska Peninsula.

The House is slated to vote July 20 on a bill that would set a dangerous precedent for wilderness and public lands by authorizing a destructive, unnecessary road through protected wilderness in the vital Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

The bill, H.R. 218, undermines bedrock conservation laws including the 1964 Wilderness Act, which prevents road building in designated wilderness, and the National Environmental Policy Act, which guarantees a process for environmental review of federal decisions, including participation by citizens and other stakeholders. 

Izembek’s lagoon complex is a globally important ecosystem that contains one of the largest eelgrass beds in the world, providing food and habitat for fish and crabs that feed migratory birds from multiple continents. Virtually the entire world populations of Pacific black brant and emperor geese, and a significant portion of the threatened Steller’s eider population visits the refuge to rest and feed during spring and fall migrations.

Like other national wildlife refuges across the country, Izembek is under attack from those who want to take over federal public lands and turn them over to state control for road construction and resource development. This is a violation of land that is supposed to cherished by all Americans and handed down from generation to generation.

Quite simply, if a road were forced through designated wilderness in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, it would set a chilling precedent that would endanger wilderness areas and wildlife refuges throughout the nation.

The community of King Cove, Alaska, has spent years demanding the road—which is estimated to cost more than $80 million—portraying it as a necessity for evacuating medical patients to an airport in the nearby community of Cold Bay. Past statements and documents from road proponents, however, have established that the true motivation for the project is the potential economic benefits that a road would provide for King Cove and local businesses.

Della Trumble, business manager for the King Cove Native Corporation and a vocal advocate for the road project, testified last March before a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Hearing and stated that the road, “is the most vital element of missing infrastructure in King Cove to our well-being and will change our cost of living.” 

Just two months ago, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker stated in a letter to President Trump that such a road would allow “access to health services and movement of goods and people between King Cove and Cold Bay

Road proponents are routinely quoted as saying that “people are dying” during medical evacuations from King Cove. In fact, there has not been a fatal incident involving medevacs from the community since 1990. That’s a safety record of more than a quarter-century.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has twice studied the road proposal exhaustively and made science-based decisions that the road: would be an irresponsible expenditure of taxpayer dollars; there are better solutions to local residents’ needs; and the proposed road would significantly compromise vital wildlife habitat while not improving transportation or access to medical care for local residents.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has evaluated three modes of emergency medical transportation, and issued a report in 2015 showing that there are viable alternatives to a road through Izembek’s designated wilderness area, including a marine ferry with an estimated reliability exceeding 99 percent.

By exploring alternatives to the road, future media coverage and public debate will benefit King Cove residents and American taxpayers by leading to a solution that works for everyone.

CONTACT: Tim Woody, Alaska Communications Manager, The Wilderness Society, tim_woody@tws.org, 907-223-2443; or Michael Reinemer, Deputy Communications Director, Wildlands, The Wilderness Society, michael_reinemer@tws.org, 202-429-3949. 

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