By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE (Reuters) – Environmentalists on Wednesday filed a lawsuit challenging a new Trump Administration plan to build a road through a national wildlife refuge in Alaska.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, targets a land-trade deal struck last month between Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and a Native-owned corporation to remove up to 500 acres (202.34 hectares) of land from Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, a migratory bird haven in southwestern Alaska.
The traded land would be used for a gravel road connecting the Aleut village of King Cove, which has about 1,000 residents, to the smaller village of Cold Bay, which has a military-built airport with a paved runway that is about 10,000 feet (3 km)long.
Supporters say the road is needed to give King Cove residents a new option for emergency evacuations. Opponents say it would damage world-class wildlife habitat and set a precedent of trading away designated wilderness.
A federal judge in March quashed an earlier version of the road deal approved by Bernhardt’s predecessor, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, in 2018.
The judge ruled that Zinke had improperly reversed Obama Administration policy without providing adequate justification and review. In 2013, after nearly four years of analysis, Obama Interior secretary Sally Jewell rejected the land trade, saying the environmental costs of the swap and road outweighed its benefits.
The new lawsuit claims Bernhardt’s new land-trade agreement repeats Zinke’s violations.
“This is another Trump administration public land giveaway that breaks multiple laws and dishonours the public processes that go into protecting the health of the lands, waters and wildlife of the National Refuge and Wilderness System,” Bridget Psarianos, staff attorney for the environmental law firm Trustees for Alaska, said in a statement released by the plaintiffs.
A Interior spokeswoman declined to comment on the new lawsuit. “The Department cannot comment on ongoing litigation,” Interior press secretary Molly Block said in an email.
(Reporting by Yereth Rosen; editing by Bill Tarrant and Sandra Maler)