Izembek Road Dispute May Be Headed to Court

Tuesday, April 08 2014

The proposed 44-mile right of way between King Cove and Cold Bay. / Courtesy of Alaska Department of Law

Over the last year, residents of King Cove have been ramping up their campaign to build what they say is a life-saving road to Cold Bay through a federal wildlife refuge.

The issue has made national news. Alaska’s lawmakers have taken up in the fight in the state legislature and in Congress. And now, the issue may be headed for court.

Kent Sullivan is an assistant attorney general for the Alaska Department of Law.

"Before the state can legally file suit against the federal government, it has to give notice to the affected agency," Sullivan says. "And so that’s what the state’s done with by recent filing, with the secretary of the Interior and the secretary of Homeland Security."

The notice says that after a 180-day waiting period required by law, the State of Alaska may sue to set up a right-of-way through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

The federal government would still own the land, but King Cove residents would have the right to pass through it to get to Cold Bay. Sullivan says the state would probably take that a step further and argue that villagers should have the right to build a road through the refuge as well.

Della Trumble is a spokeswoman for King Cove’s tribal council and village corporation. She says that residents have been crisscrossing the refuge for generations.

"It has to do with hunting, fishing, and trapping that the people have done for many, many -- technically thousands -- of years," Trumble says. "They walked basically back and through there."

Trumble says she’s glad the state’s considering legal action – even if it takes a while to resolve. Alaska's filed similar claims against the federal government in the past. Some of them have gone on for up to 15 years.

Sullivan would be responsible for steering the state’s case through court.

"Litigation may not be the best way to satisfy things quickly," Sullivan says. "But on the other hand, the state needs to rely upon all options that it can in trying to get this dispute resolved and get access for the folks of King Cove."

The State of Alaska can proceed with its lawsuit after October 4.

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