Monday, February 29, 2016

Sally Jewell's treatment of King Cove tells us what our government has become

by Paul Jenkins

      If Donald Trump’s exuberant “I love the poorly educated” gush during his Nevada victory gloat -- doesn’t this guy scare the pants off anybody but me? -- did not peg your had-enough-o-meter, a video of a recent Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing might.
      It offers insight about what our federal masters think of Alaskans.
      The snippet centered on the Interior Department’s budget proposal for fiscal 2017. It contained an exchange between Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the powerful panel, and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
      Murkowski asked Jewell how many emergency medical evacuations from King Cove there have been in the 26 months since Jewell nixed a 10-mile, single-lane, non-commercial, gravel road through the 300,000-acre Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. It would have linked the tiny Alaska Peninsula community of King Cove to nearby Cold Bay’s all-weather runway for emergency medical evacuations.
Jewell had nary a clue but, she said, “I’m sure that it is dozens.” Murkowski said since Dec. 23, 2013, there have been 39 -- 14 by the Coast Guard --  “which is unacceptable by anyone's standards.”
      Murkowski pressed her about a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study done last year for the Department of Interior, and not released publicly, that examined alternatives already considered -- “marine vessels,” helicopters, even a new airport -- and rejected as “impractical” or “unaffordable.”
“Impractical” and “unaffordable” are key words in federal squirming about the road. As sop to environmentalists, Congress has plowed nearly $40 million into King Cove for clinic and airstrip improvements, and anted up $7 million for a hovercraft. None of it solved the problem.
      Congress in 2009 approved a land swap for the road -- 61,000 acres of Alaska and King Cove Corp. land for 206 acres of refuge -- but required an environmental impact statement. When Jewell killed the deal four years later, she promised to help the village’s 950 residents find an alternative. She has done nothing.
      “You had promised that you would work to address the situation of the people in King Cove,” Murkowski said during the hearing. “I don’t see anything in this FY 17 budget to actually implement any of the ideas that were contained in this study of these alternatives, so the question this morning is whether or not you are planning on doing anything in this year, or is this a situation where you basically just run the clock and you leave the people of King Cove hanging?”
      “I would be delighted to work with you on a marine-based solution,” said Jewell, adding that a road would be inappropriate.
      Governmentspeak, especially federal governmentspeak, often is baffling. Let me translate Jewell’s comments: Yes, I am running out the clock -- and doing a great job, don’t you think? No, I am not going to do any more for those weenies than I already have -- zip. Oh, and neener neener. 
      As the clock ticks toward that horrific moment when yet another person dies at King Cove trying to reach medical help -- village officials say 19 have over the years, in medevacs or awaiting evacuation, and nobody counts the close calls -- it is clear neither Jewell nor her chums will be swayed. King Cove, after all, is so very far away.
      It would make more sense, I suppose, if her stated reasons for blocking the road made more sense. They do not.

1 comment:

drjohn said...

the residents should call out the bulldozers and just build it