Ian Tuttle’s article on a proposed road through congressionally designated wilderness in Alaska (“Deadly Environmentalism,” June 22) omitted several salient facts.
While people on both sides of the issue respect the emergency-transportation concerns of the residents of King Cove, Alaska, a road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge’s wilderness is no solution. It is estimated that driving to the community of Cold Bay would take nearly two hours, if the route were passable. The severe weather Tuttle describes — thick fog, lashing rain, driving snow — would often render the road useless.
By comparison, planes, helicopters, and a hovercraft that was purchased with millions of federal tax dollars can transport people much more quickly. The hovercraft transported a full ambulance and crew to Cold Bay in about 20 minutes. Former Aleutians East Borough mayor Stanley Mack once called it “a life-saving machine.” It successfully performed 32 medical evacuations from King Cove until the borough decided it was too expensive to operate.
Dr. Pete Mjos, former Eastern Aleutian medical director for the U.S. Public Health Service, has told the U.S. Department of the Interior that attempting to drive the road during extreme weather would jeopardize lives.
Supporters of the road proposal routinely cite long-ago aviation accidents as justification for a land route, but the fact remains that no one has died during a medical evacuation from King Cove during the past quarter century.
The U.S. Department of the Interior has repeatedly and exhaustively studied the road idea and consistently declined to approve it. Let us hope that all sides can move forward with finding a solution that solves King Cove’s emergency-transport needs while keeping our national wildlife refuge intact.
Alaska Regional Director
The Wilderness Society
Ian Tuttle responds: I appreciate the work that the Wilderness Society and similar organizations do, but Ms. Whittington-Evans’s response pointedly avoids the indisputable conclusion: that a road is not only the best, but the sole feasible option for getting injured or ill King Cove residents quickly to Cold Bay’s all-weather airport. Ms. Whittington-Evans recommends aircraft — when the unreliability of air travel is precisely the problem. She recommends, too, the hovercraft that operated briefly between King Cove and Cold Bay — despite the fact that, as I wrote, it failed to operate 30 percent of the time and ultimately was too expensive to operate. She says the road will take two hours to travel — but doesn’t mention that it would cut the average bad-weather travel time by two-thirds.
Ms. Whittington-Evans recommends solutions that have been shown to be infeasible, and argues against the sole remaining option. I am sympathetic to desires to protect flora and fauna, but despite her words about “finding a solution,” Ms. Whittington-Evans has none to offer.