ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The U.S. Department of the Interior plans to appeal a judge’s rejection of a plan for a road that would pass through Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
U.S. District Senior Judge John Sedwick rejected a land exchange agreement between the Interior Department and King Cove Corp., an Alaska Native village corporation, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported.
The federal agency issued a notice last Friday saying it would appeal the June ruling.
The land trade is intended at advancing the road project in the refuge near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula.
Residents of the isolated village of King Cove have pushed for the construction for decades, saying a road would help residents more easily reach the all-weather airport in nearby Cold Bay for medical evacuations.
Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation also supported the road, saying the lives of King Cove residents could depend on a reliable travel route during emergencies.
Environmental groups argue the road could still be impassable during the winter and bad weather and that the construction and traffic could harm Izembek’s birds and wildlife.
The Interior Department under the Obama administration determined the potential ecological damage was too great to allow construction of the road through the protected wilderness area, which is an internationally recognized habitat for migrating waterfowl.
President Donald Trump’s first Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, approved a land exchange, but U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason ruled last year that Zinke reversed the policy without a reasoned explanation.
Current Interior Secretary David Bernhardt submitted an updated proposal that attempted to justify the project with new information, including reports on the cost of Coast Guard rescues and the challenges of traveling to the area by sea.
Environmental groups sued and Sedwick ruled the studies cited in the proposal did not provide enough new information. The judge declared Bernhardt’s decision was arbitrary and violated the federal Administrative Procedures Act.
Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director for Defenders of Wildlife, said the ruling was “a victory for an ecologically irreplaceable area and the black brant, Emperor geese, brown bears and stunning array of other wildlife that call it home.”
Della Trumble, CEO of King Cove Corp., called the decision disheartening and said “we’ve been a part of this battle for 35 years and we’re not going to quit. That is the bottom line.”