JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Interior Department has postponed Secretary Deb Haaland’s planned visit to Alaska until later this year, a department spokesperson said.
Melissa Schwartz, in a statement Wednesday, said the decision was made out of “an abundance of caution given rising COVID rates and in consultation with Alaska Native, local and federal leaders.”
The Alaska health department shows most of the state is under high alert status, which is based on reported COVID-19 cases in the past seven days.
Schwartz previously said Haaland had planned to travel to Alaska, including the community of King Cove, in mid-September to meet with local officials, Alaska Native leaders and others.
King Cove is at the center of a dispute over a proposed land exchange aimed at building a road through a national wildlife refuge in Alaska. King Cove residents have long sought a land connection through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to Cold Bay, which has an all-weather airport. Supporters of the effort see it as a life and safety issue.
In 2013, Interior Department officials declined a land exchange. Under the Trump administration, efforts to move forward with a land exchange faced legal challenges, including an ongoing case.
A Justice Department attorney last month told a federal appeals court panel that Haaland planned to review the record and visit King Cove before making a decision on what position she would take.
Schwartz, in her statement, called the Alaska visit “critically important to the Secretary and to the mission of the Department, and the kind of robust community engagement desired would not be possible given health and safety concerns throughout the regions.”