Ya gotta love Sen. Ted Stevens. He's a guy who works long and hard to protect the interests and lives of his constituents in the face of environmental groups that could not care less about Alaskans.
The interminable battle to link the small Aleut village of King Cove to nearby Cold Bay by road to ensure access to that community's all-weather runways for medical help and economic growth is a great example.
Alaska's senior senator inserted into an energy and water spending bill a directive that the U.S. Corps of Engineers already evaluating six alternatives to tie the two Alaska Peninsula communities together adopt the one known as Alternative 1, a single-lane, gravel, 17-mile road that would cross private land from outside King Cove to the edge of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness.
The rider's language also prohibits lawsuits challenging the selection. The measure won approval in both chambers and is on its way to the president.
In addition to the road in Alternative 1, there would be hovercraft service from where the single-lane route would end at the refuge border to Cold Bay, six miles away across sometimes ferocious seas.
None of this sits well with the folks who say they want to protect the refuge. They fret that such a road would be just the beginning of a drive to build the originally proposed 33-mile road that would follow the southeast edge of the refuge and link Cold Bay with King Cove. That would have been King Cove's first choice.
If wildlife protectionists and environmentalists had their way, they would leave King Cove residents forced to depend on a ferry or hovercraft that starts at Leonard Harbor making the trip 16 miles across often-dangerous Cold Bay.
The effort to link Cold Bay and King Cove primarily is aimed at saving lives, not putting them in more peril. More than once, people in desperate need of medical help have been forced to wait for improved weather before they could leave King Cove to reach medical facilities. And people perished on an emergency flight trying to fly from the village's Band-Aid-size gravel strip that winds render unsafe for about 200 days a year. Their only alternative has been to wait or risk their lives in tumultuous seas.
Sen. Stevens understands that Alaska lives are at stake in this debate; that his constituents deserve the same access to medical help as any other American. He should be commended for his effort.
We've asked the question before; we'll ask it again. When does concern for the environment or protection of wildlife become something else, something that values human life and suffering so little? Is it a twisted religion? Zealotry? Insanity?
Whatever it is, its adherents appear more than willing to sacrifice Alaska lives for their beliefs.
The Voice of the (Anchorage) Times - Nov. 30
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