Appeals court reverses ruling halting Alaska refuge road

Mar 16, 2022, 3:22 PM | Updated: 9:53 pm

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A federal appeals court panel on Wednesday reversed a decision that rejected a land swap aimed at allowing a road be built through an Alaska national wildlife refuge that is an internationally recognized habitat for migrating waterfowl.

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the decision back to U.S. District Judge John Sedwick in Alaska for further consideration. Nine environmental groups had sued to stop the swap on the Alaska Peninsula.

Sedwick blocked an agreement that would have allowed the Interior secretary and King Cove Corp., an Alaska Native village corporation, to exchange land in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in the Aleutians East Borough to build a long-sought gravel road that would allow King Cove residents access to an all-weather airport in nearby Cold Bay for medical transports.

David Bernhardt, who was an Interior secretary under then-President Donald Trump, agreed to the land swap and environmental groups sued. The Biden administration joined King Cove Corp., the Agdaagux Tribe of King Cove, the Native Village of Belkofski and the state of Alaska in seeking the reversal of the district court’s ruling.

“We’re very happy about the decision,” King Cove Corp. spokesperson and Agdaagux Tribal member Della Trumble said in a statement. “We will continue to work diligently to execute that decision.”

Congress created the 486-square-mile (1,258-sq. kilometer) refuge in 1980. Izembek Lagoon holds one of the world’s largest beds of eelgrass, a rich food source for Pacific brant geese, endangered Steller’s eider sea ducks and other migratory birds.

King Cove and Cold Bay are about 18 miles (29 kilometers) apart. With no road, the only access is by either boat or airplane.

The King Cove airport experiences frequent bad weather, making travel difficult. Residents for decades have sought a safer road to reach the airport in Cold Bay for medical evacuations.

Bernhardt noted in his 2019 decision that there had been over 70 medevacs from King Cove to Cold Bay, Anchorage or Seattle in the previous six years and that the U.S. Coast Guard handled about 20 medevacs at a cost of about $50,000 per rescue mission.

The appeals court ruling “means so much to the community of King Cove,” said its mayor, Warren Wilson.

Environmental groups that were part of the lawsuit decried the decision.

“The failure of Ninth Circuit to uphold the district court’s decision to halt the proposed desecration of the Izembek refuge wilderness and wildlife that rely on it allows Interior to give away public lands to serve special interests at the expense of the American people,” David C. Raskin, president of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, said in a statement.

He added: “We will use every means at our disposal to continue the fight to save the Izembek Refuge.”

Dan Ritzman, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Water Wildlife Campaign said the wilderness of the Izembek refuge “is irreplaceable and globally significant for the wildlife that call it home. Pushing a road through the Refuge puts these valuable resources at immediate risk and goes against the will of the American public.”

Even though the U.S. Department of Justice argued for the reversal, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has not decided whether she would support a road through the refuge.

She had planned to visit King Cove before making a decision but those plans were postponed and the trip has not been rescheduled.

Melissa Schwartz, an Interior Department spokeswoman, said in an email that officials are reviewing the appeals court decision and that she had no update on whether Haaland will still visit King Cove.

The appeals court panel split 2-1 in its decision. It found that Congress under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act gives the Interior secretary discretion to strike a balance between economic and social needs and environmental interests, and that Bernhardt did that when he said without a road, the residents’ needs wouldn’t be adequately met.

The panel also found that Bernhardt didn’t violate the Administrative Procedure Act by changing the position of former Interior Secretary Sally Jewel without adequate explanation, and that a special provision he had invoked for the land exchange provision was not subject to special procedures required under the conservation act.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Yacht owned by sanctioned Russian tycoon docks in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AP) — A superyacht connected to Russian tycoon Alexey Mordashov has anchored in Hong Kong this week amid moves by Western governments to seize yachts connected to sanctioned Russian businessmen. The megayacht Nord, worth over $500 million, arrived in Hong Kong on Wednesday afternoon after traveling for over a week from Vladivostok, Russia, […]
23 hours ago
Associated Press

NC Senate candidates to meet in likely only televised debate

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The two major-party candidates seeking to succeed retiring North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr are meeting for what is likely their only televised debate. Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd agreed to a one-hour debate being held Friday night at a cable television studio in Raleigh. Budd is a three-term […]
23 hours ago
Jordan Cromer cleans water-logged items at his home, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022, in North Port, Fla. Res...
Associated Press

Hurricane Ian floods leave mess, insurance questions behind

NORTH PORT, Fla. (AP) — Christine Barrett was inside her family’s North Port home during Hurricane Ian when one of her children started yelling that water was coming up from the shower. Then it started coming in from outside the house. Eventually the family was forced to climb on top of their kitchen cabinets — […]
23 hours ago
Attorney Chris Mattei displays a video during his closing statements in the Alex Jones Sandy Hook d...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: Jurors weigh cost of Alex Jones’ Sandy Hook lies

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) — For a decade, the parents and siblings of people killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have been tormented and harassed by people who believe the mass shooting was a hoax. How do you put a price tag on their suffering? That’s part of the task faced by a Connecticut […]
23 hours ago
FILE - Suffolk County Congressman Lee Zeldin listens as he prepares to participate in New York's Re...
Associated Press

GOP steps up crime message in midterm’s final stretch

NEW YORK (AP) — The graphic surveillance video shows a man on a sidewalk suddenly punching someone in the head, knocking them to the ground. With muted screams and gunshots in the background, the video stitches together other surveillance clips of shootings and punching on streets and subway trains as a voiceover says, “You’re looking […]
23 hours ago
Javier Diaz poses for a photo next to his home that was destroyed by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in...
Associated Press

10 days later, Cubans still recovering from Hurricane Ian

LA COLOMA, Cuba (AP) — Soldiers fix roofs and raise power poles under a blazing sun, while teachers salvage wet school books and residents cook over wood fires in La Coloma, a fishing and industrial town on Cuba’s coast that took the brunt of Hurricane Ian. Ten days after the storm left still unquantified devastation […]
23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
Appeals court reverses ruling halting Alaska refuge road