Alaska House Questions Izembek Land Swap EIS Decision
Wednesday, February 20th, 2013 @ 1:26PM
Letter to Interior Secretary Salazar opposes U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s recommendation for ‘no action’ alternative in the Environmental Impact Statement for proposed Cold Bay-King Cove Road
Wednesday, February 20, 2013, Juneau, Alaska – Alaska House Representatives sent a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today, questioning a recent federal decision that they say severely and inhumanely impacts the quality of life for residents of King Cove on the Alaska Peninsula.
A land exchange has been in the works for more than a decade where the state and federal governments would swap land to allow for an emergency road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge so residents of isolated King Cove could have access to the nearby Cold Bay airport. The villages are separated by Cold Bay and Kinzarof Lagoon, and residents of King Cove must travel by boat or small plane to access the larger runway at Cold Bay for emergencies or medevac services.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced a “no action” decision on the proposed land exchange for the road corridor, irrevocably damaging future prospects for this statewide public safety priority.
“Alaskan leaders, including Governor Parnell, Senators Murkowski and Begich, and Congressman Young, are rightfully outraged. But House members here are concerned about the EIS process itself,” Representative Bob Herron, D-Bethel, said. “My concern, which is shared by a large number of my colleagues, is this EIS was possibly compromised and may have an unintended consequence of endangering future land trades important to Alaskans and, ironically, USF&WS. An engineered justification that was required to match a pre-guaranteed conclusion that has holes in it is not acceptable. Alaskans deserve better.”
Herron and co-signers point to a series of questionable justifications from USF&WS in its decision, and highlighted their concerns on fairness and local input. “Why did USF&WS repeatedly disregard the scientific observations, reviews and comments by the King Cove Group’s consultants? Why was any input from the Cooperating agencies and local residents regarding wildlife issues completely ignored? Why was the agency unwilling to even discuss their impact evaluation scoring criteria used in the EIS?” the letter states on page two.
“This is an injustice for the residents of King Cove, and quite frankly, all Alaskans who believe the federal government has a duty to listen to local input on decisions they make from five thousand miles away,” Representative Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said. “This decision sends a terrible message.”
The letter, signed by 36 members of the House, breaks down the argument in layman’s terms and government-speak. “We want to be full partners with Washington, D.C.,” Herron said. “This is another example where that goal has not been met.”
“We’ve talked about federal over-reach, and here is a perfect example,” Alaska Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said. “A federal bureaucrat who doesn’t have to answer to Alaskans is making what looks like a decision counter to the will of the citizens affected.”
A copy of the letter can be found here.
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