JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Interior Department's rejection of a road through a national wildlife refuge that could aid patients in a small Alaska village is emblematic of a bigger problem between the state and federal government, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski told state lawmakers Wednesday.
In December, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected a proposed land swap to build a gravel road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, which shelters millions of migratory waterfowl.
Residents of King Cove want road access to an all-weather airport at Cold Bay for medical flights.
Murkowski, a Republican, told lawmakers there was more at stake than just a road. She said Jewell's decision was emblematic of how "the federal government believes that it has to somehow protect Alaska from Alaskans. That we can't be counted on to be good stewards of the land that we have fought for and we have worked for and we have raised our children up to honor and respect."
Environmental groups bitterly oppose the road, noting that Congress in 1997 addressed King Cove transportation needs and appropriated $37.5 million for water access to Cold Bay that included a $9 million hovercraft. They also contend a road is just as likely as air transportation to be closed by the area's notorious winds and snow.
Murkowski, however, said to applause that the only thing standing in the way of a road is a federal government that says, "somehow, we need to make sure that every bird is protected before the lives of Alaskans will be protected. That's wrong. That is absolutely wrong."
Murkowski told reporters later that she would continue to press the case with Jewell and was even considering holding up nominations by the administration.