Environment | Law

Alaska Natives sue Interior Department to build road in refuge

A view of King Cove in Alaska. Photo from City Data

Alaska Natives filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department on Wednesday in hopes of building a much-needed road through a federal wildlife refuge.

King Cove, an Aleut village, sits 30 miles from the nearest air strip in Cold Bay. The only way to get there is to via boat, a trip that can take up to two hours in choppy weather [Google Maps: No Directions] or by flying.

Residents say a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge will save lives by making the journey quicker. But Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected the project due to environmental concerns.

"This is about protecting the lives of human beings,” Della Trumble, a spokesperson for the Agdaagux Tribe of King Cove and the King Cove Corporation, said in a press release. “Secretary Jewell’s decision has violated her trust responsibility to protect the health and well-being of Alaska Natives."

The Agdaagux Tribe, the King Cove Corporation and the Native Village of Belkofski are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Their complaint notes that 11 people have died since 1980 trying to make the trip from King Cove to Cold Bay.

Another plaintiff is Etta Kuzakin, who is the president of the Agdaagux Tribe. She had to be flown out of King Cove by the Coast Guard when she was 34 months pregnant.

"Had the Coast Guard not been there or able to fly her to Cold Bay she could not have given birth because the King Cove clinic lacks the ability to perform a cesarean section," the complaint states.

Leff Kenezuroff, a member of the Native Village of Belkofski, is another plaintiff. The elder has been medevaced out of King Cove four times due to heart attacks.

"On one of those occasions planes could not fly and he was transported across Cold Bay and the Pacific Ocean in a 90 fool long crab boat," the complaint states. "Upon arriving at the Cold Bay dock he was unable to climb the 25 foot ladder from the ship to the dock and had to be hoisted to the dock in a crab pot."

The defendants include Secretary Jewell and Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He visited King Cove last summer to consult with tribes and Native corporations and compiled a report that said "almost all the information" that was gathered was "strongly in favor of building a road."

However, the complaint states that the report was not released to the tribes and Native corporations until Jewell made her final decision to reject the road in December 2013.

Get the Story:
Alaska village sues feds to open road in refuge (AP 6/4)
King Cove Sues Federal Government Over Road (KTUU 6/4)
King Cove sues to open road through refuge (KTVA 6/4)
King Cove Road Advocates Sue Federal Officials (KUCB 6/4)
Remote town sues feds over blocked road project (The Washington Times 6/5)

Related Stories:
Alaska plans to sue DOI over controversial road for Native village (4/9)
Editorial: Secretary Jewell makes bad call on Native village road (4/7)
Alaska Native leaders in DC to make case for controversial road (03/25)
Lisa Murkowski: Road to nowhere a lifesaver for Native village (3/19)
Opinion: Secretary Jewell ignores trust obligations to village (3/17)
Lisa Murkowski: DOI decision leaves Alaska Native village at risk (2/26)
Secretary Jewell axes road project for Alaska Native village (1/3)

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