Frustrated with Obama administration's decision to ignore the safety needs of the community of King Cove, Alaska, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today expressed his disappointment directly to President Obama. He said the administration's treatment of Alaskans will be one of his top priorities when considering confirmation of Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell.
Following up on earlier requests he has made, Begich asked the President to direct outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to meet with King Cove residents before he leaves office. Begich also asked the President to direct Secretary-nominee Jewell, if confirmed, to travel to Alaska within her first 60 days on the job to learn about Alaska issues first-hand.
Last week the Department of Interior issued a disappointing decision denying construction of a road that would allow residents of King Cove access to a key airport in nearby Cold Bay in the case of emergencies.
Begich writes in the letter:
"I am troubled that this decision is part of a continuing trend to ignore the needs of Americans who live in the West, especially in some of the most remote parts of our nation such as Alaska. Despite repeated attempts, the residents of King Cove were denied an opportunity to meet face-to-face with Secretary Salazar to make their case. Yet these Americans deserve the same opportunities for basic health care and public safety as those who live in Chicago or elsewhere in our country. "
"How she addresses this troubling trend will be at the top of my list when I consider the confirmation of Interior Secretary-designee Sally Jewell. The Department of the Interior has more responsibility in my state than any other federal agency."
The anti-road decision was announced by DOI in releasing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) recommending a "no build alternative." The decision specifically prohibits a strategic three-way land exchange between the State of Alaska, the King Cove village corporation, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The exchange would allow for construction of the road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge on the Alaska Peninsula and provide King Cove residents with access to the airport runway in Cold Bay.
Begich voted for the exchange in 2009.