Murkowski’s Folly: No Road For King Cove

Photo Credit: U.S. Army Alaska

Alaska has long received more than its fair share of federal tax dollars, as evidenced by its perennial first place ranking in pork per capita according to Citizens Against Government Waste’s (CAGW) Congressional Pig Book. Now, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) wants taxpayers to pay for a road in her state linking the town of King Cove (about 750 year-round residents) to Cold Bay and the latter’s all-weather airport, purportedly for safety reasons. In February, Sen. Murkowski threatened to block the nomination of Sally Jewell to be Secretary of the Interior unless the road was approved.

Sen. Murkowski’s pet project had previously been rebuffed by the Department of the Interior because the road would run through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Environmental Impact Statement, the road would cost $22.7 million, but data from the Alaska Statewide Improvement Transportation budget projections from fiscal years 2010-2015 suggest that the cost of the road could exceed $80 million, or more than $2 million per mile. Undeterred, Sen. Murkowski stated on February 12 that she was “prepared to consider all actions available…to convince this administration that denying the people of King Cove reliable access to medical care would be a travesty.” This week, Sen. Murkowski struck a deal with the Interior Department to get the road proposal reevaluated and toned down her rhetoric regarding the nomination.

Predictably, it appears that commercial interests, not medical emergencies, are the primary driver of the project. According to a February 24, 2013 Washington Post article, “Originally, both area residents and state officials viewed the road as a way to bolster the region’s fishing industry. …when King Cove passed its first resolution calling for its construction, it did not mention safety concerns and instead called for the road to ‘link together two communities having one of the state’s premier fishing port/harbors.'” The “safety” defense emerged only after it appeared unlikely that the road would receive federal funds.

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