“The weather made it unreliable,” Gifford said. “It couldn’t operate enough days.”
One of the arguments being made for the road is that air transport from King Cove has been dangerous. Eleven King Cove residents have died in plane crashes stemming from medical emergencies, 10 of them in two separate crashes in 1980 and 1981.
But others say transporting patients by road would be more perilous than not having it at all.
“Combined with darkness, avalanche conditions, and ice-glazed roads, an attempt to travel the proposed road would be foolish beyond any reason, regardless the emergency or business,” wrote the former Eastern Aleutian medical director for the U.S. Public Health Service, Peter Mjos, in May 2012. “Any attempt to maintain the road for travel in such conditions would clearly jeopardize life.”
“While we feel for the people of King Cove, the road is not the answer if they’re actually seeking faster, more effective access to medical facilities,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, the Wilderness Society’s Alaska regional director.
Originally, both area residents and state officials viewed the road as a way to bolster the region’s fishing industry. In 1994, 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 (including North America’s largest salmon cannery) in King Cove with one of the State’s premier airports at Cold Bay.”
Lawmakers have proposed language that would restrict the road to emergency operations. Outsiders may question the villagers’ environmental commitment, Trumble said, but the refuge is “a part of who we are as Aleut people.”
Desiree Sorenson-Groves, vice president of government affairs for the National Wildlife Refuge Association, said it’s unrealistic to expect federal officials will enforce such restrictions on a road she said would “go through the biological heart of the refuge . . . They’re not going to be having an armed guard at the gate.”