Alaskan Congressman Don Young today questioned Interior Secretary Sally Jewell's commitment to providing emergency medical access to King Cove, AK during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the fiscal year 2015 Department of Interior Budget. Congressman Young raised serious concern with Secretary Jewell and her Department's unwillingness to work on legitimate solutions to find reliable alternatives for the isolated community, something the Secretary committed to doing following the December denial of the emergency access road from King Cove to Cold Bay.
"Alaskans have battled treacherous conditions, including perilous boat rides and flights, when seeking emergency medical care for years," said Congressman Young following the committee hearing. "This is a reality we face in Alaska that much of the Lower 48 takes for granted, but it doesn't have to be this way for the community of King Cove. The Secretary has the ability to save lives by granting reliable access to Cold Bay's airport."
"The people of King Cove deserve a real commitment to solving these concerns and I don't believe this Administration is willing to put the concerns of Alaskans above those of environmentalists," Congressman Young said. "The fact that this agency has not included a single dime of its $12 billion proposed budget for providing alternative access to King Cove for weather related emergency medical evacuations, tells me this Secretary is simply paying us lip-service and hopes her appalling and shameful decision to deny this road will simply go away."
During today's hearing, Congressman Young was quick to voice his apprehension with Secretary Jewell's suggestion to establish a full-time United States Coast Guard (USCG) presence in King Cove as an alternative solution to building an emergency access road. Congressman Young questioned whether the financial obligations, more than $200,000 per rescue, should come from the Secretary of Interior's budget. The USCG estimates establishing a fulltime presence will cost upwards of $160 million initially, and $12 million annually to maintain. To date, the USCG has conducted five medical transports from King Cove since the Secretary's December decision, and 22 over the last five years.
"Should the Department of Interior, who has a trust responsibility to the Native people of King Cove, be responsible for reimbursing the Coast Guard for these expenses," Congressman Young asked? " It's your responsibility, you won't let a road be built, you have not allowed this, and I'm losing lives. I just think that's very inappropriate."
At the conclusion of the hearing, Congressman Young made a plea with Secretary Jewell to imagine her own children in the shoes of King Cove residents facing medical emergencies.
"[Imagine] they're in King Cove and they get sick, and there's no way to get across there" said Congressman Young at the conclusion of the committee hearing. "You don't have the road and winds are blowing 80 miles an hour. There's no way to go because the Secretary of Interior, this one and the last one, said we couldn't build the road. This Congress passed the ability to build that road; [just imagine if] your son is dying. I hope you feel good about that, I really do If someone dies out of King Cove, I want you to really think about it and be ashamed of yourself," said Congressman Young at the conclusion of the committee hearing."