As our past feature stories on the Discovery Channel series, Yukon Men have shown, whenever there is talk about a road being built with isolated Alaskan communities involved, there is bound to be some tension.
For one Alaskan village that has hoped for a road to get better access to and from it, a controversial federal decision will allow a road to be constructed through a national wildlife refuge.
The Interior Department has approved a land swap deal that will allow a remote Alaskan village to construct a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, according to local officials. The action effectively overrules wilderness protections that have kept the area off limits to vehicles for decades.
The land exchange, which has been agreed to but not formally signed, sets in motion a process that would improve King Cove’s access to the closest regional airport. The village, with roughly 925 residents, has lobbied federal officials for decades to construct a 12-mile gravel road connecting it to the neighboring town of Cold Bay.
In an interview late Friday, City Administrator Gary Hennigh said residents “are encouraged that this administration has a different attitude about this road, and … that the needs of the people in King Cove can be met. At the same time, the special qualities of the Izembek refuge can continue.”
Environmentalists, along with two Democratic administrations, have blocked the road on the grounds that it would bisect a stretch of tundra and lagoons that provide a vital feeding ground for migrating birds as well as habitat for bears, caribou and other species. The refuge was established by President Dwight Eisenhower, and all but 15,000 of its 315,000 acres have been designated as wilderness since 1980. Motorized vehicle access is traditionally prohibited in such areas.
Interior officials did not respond to a request for comment on Friday, but Hennigh said Secretary Ryan Zinke and the King Cove Corp. president will sign the agreement in Washington sometime in January. The department has declined to publicly discuss the land exchange negotiations, which The Washington Post first reported in October.