State House supports Cold Bay road project
The decades-in-the-making effort to build a road between King Cove and Cold Bay got yet another nod of approval from state lawmakers this month.
The Alaska House unanimously approved House Joint Resolution 6, which supports federal efforts to get the road built. It was the first piece of legislation to pass the House this session, and is now being considered by the state Senate.
Right now, Cold Bay has an airport with a lengthy runway and a system that supports landing in poor weather. King Cove, less than 30 miles away, has a short gravel airstrip that is often unusable. But the road would need to pass through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, and getting federal permission to do so has been difficult. Most recently, former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said that the road through the refuge would not be in the public's best interest and rejected a planned land exchange.
Residents have pushed for a road to Cold Bay for years, citing the need to get the more reliable runway, particularly in medical emergencies. According to information from Alaska's congressional delegation, 19 people have died in plane crashes or while waiting to be medevaced from King Cove, a number that road supporters say would be much lower if King Cove residents and visitors could get to Cold Bay for transit instead.
The new resolution was sponsored by Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham democrat whose district includes King Cove, a community of about 900 people, and Cold Bay, a town of about 100.
"King Cove residents have been fighting for over 30 years to get approval for a road to the all-weather airport in Cold Bay and I am happy to once again take up their cause," Edgmon said in a formal statement after the resolution passed. "My colleagues and I don't want to see any more loss of life because King Cove residents can't get access to medical facilities in Anchorage via the Cold Bay airport? We are committed to public safety in every city, borough, and village in Alaska and it seems only fitting that this resolution is the first piece of legislation to pass the House this year."
Several other state representatives and senators signed on as co-sponsors. The resolution is now up for consideration in the Senate. It was heard in the Senate Resources Committee on Feb. 6, and moved out of committee but had not yet been scheduled for another hearing or a floor vote as of Feb. 7.
The resolution supports the most recent effort to address the need for a road federally.
Alaska's congressional delegation has again introduced legislation to get it built. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both republicans, introduced a bill last month that would authorize an equal value land exchange between the State of Alaska and the federal government for a 206-acre land road corridor. That would account for less than one percent of the wildlife refuge, and would enable the state to build a non-commercial gravel road through the refuge that connects road segments outside the refuge.
This is just the latest in the long-saga of King Cove's transportation difficulties. In 2009, the delegation got similar legislation passed; that land exchange was the one rejected by Jewell. Alaska lawmakers also supported that 2009 bill. Before that, the Aleutians East Borough received federal funding to purchase a $9 million hovercraft to use at King Cove. That enabled them to conduct evacuations of medical patients from 2007 to 2010, but was considered too expensive to operate, and still couldn't travel in rough seas or with high winds.
And in the 1990s, congress appropriated money for a runway upgrade at King Cove. But when it came time to build it, the State of Alaska found that the airport there couldn't support a runway that jets could use.
This time around, state lawmakers have said they hope the change of administration in Washington D.C. helps to get the land exchange through, and are urging congress to take the first step and approve it.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.