WASHINGTON— Today Senator Murkowski (R-AK) used the Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Department of the Interior budget allocations as a platform to renew her demand to build a costly, dangerous and destructive road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, despite the millions of taxpayer dollars that have already been used to ensure the health and welfare of citizens in the area. Her insistence on building the road even earned her a “Porker of the Month” award from Citizens Against Government Waste last spring.
The following is a statement from Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO, Defenders of Wildlife:
“Senator Murkowski continues to shamelessly bully the Department of the Interior to build a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. After careful consideration and under tremendous political pressure, Secretary Jewell made the right decision months ago to reject the road, and representatives from Republican and Democratic administrations alike agree that in doing so she stood by logic, science and the conservation values of our country.
“Taxpayers have already spent $37 million to ensure the safety of the residents of King Cove, but apparently that’s not enough money to appease Senator Murkowski. At a time when Congress is gouging spending, it is abhorrent that the senator would ask for yet more from the American taxpayers, especially in order to build an unnecessary and dangerous road through internationally recognized wetlands and irreplaceable wilderness that American citizens chose to protect.
“Lands like Izembek and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are irreplaceable – critical to hundreds of species of wildlife, and among the places that make Alaska such a special and important part of our country. Senator Murkowski should recognize this and move on.”
Congress previously had resolved the issue of the proposed road through Izembek back in 1998. In lieu of a road, the small community of King Cove accepted $37.5 million of federal funds for improved local health facilities and easier access to additional medical care ($52,000 per resident of King Cove). Despite the agreement and the tens of millions of dollars the federal tax payer paid to live up to its end of the bargain, the community of King Cove continued to press for a road through internationally important wetlands in the refuge.
Senator Murkowski was able to insert a provision into the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009 that required the secretary of the Department of the Interior to accept a land exchange that would have removed land for the road from the Izembek refuge if the secretary made a determination that the road was in the public interest. As part of the Senate confirmation process for the new secretary, Senator Lisa Murkowski extracted a promise from the Obama administration that Secretary Jewell would visit the state before making a final decision about the proposed road and land exchange. In December 2013, four months after her visit to King Cove, Secretary Jewell upheld the Fish and Wildlife Service’s determination to reject the proposed road and land swap in Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge after reviewing over 70,000 public comments. Secretary Jewell’s decision reaffirmed the vital importance of protecting designated wilderness lands in a world class national wildlife refuge.
The associated costs of the road alone are at least an additional $22.7 million, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service Environmental Impact Statement. However, the real cost could exceed $80 million, as suggested by data from the Alaska Statewide Transportation Improvement budget projections. Additionally, yearly maintenance costs on a road under the pressure of such extreme weather-related wear would be significant, and funding for those costs is unknown.
The largest Alaska Native organization, the Association of Village Council Presidents, opposed the proposed road, which is more likely to function as an industrial fish-hauling road in summer than an emergency evacuation route in winter. A former Alaskan health director claimed the road would be a “death trap,” in winter, so dangerous more people would die using it than would benefit from it.