Interior Secretary Jewell wishes Alaskans would ‘get over’ King Cove road

Among a crowd of lawmakers from across the country at the White House on Friday, Alaska state House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell about her decision to continue to bar a potentially life-saving road through a federal wildlife refuge in Southeast Alaska.

He was shocked by her response.

“I wish that Alaskans would get over it,” Jewell said, according to Pruitt, who wrote down the quote, referring to the long-fought-for road from King Cove to Cold Bay. Pruitt said she talked about other issues that she felt were “more important” than the road, like opening up lands for oil development in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, and offshore drilling in the Arctic.

“Do you know how you feel when you get punched in the gut? That’s how I felt,” Pruitt said in a phone interview on Friday. “What she basically said is that drilling is more important than saving lives.”

Other lawmakers in the room approached Pruitt after the meeting, describing Jewell’s reaction as “arrogant.”Jewell was one of three Obama White House cabinet secretaries who were meeting with a group of about 50 legislators from across the country as part of the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Alaska state lawmakers present were Pruitt and Sen. Kevin Meyer.

Residents of King Cove — a village of about 950 on the Aleutian chain — have been lobbying the federal government to allow for the road that would cut through a portion of the Izembek Wildlife Refuge to the village of Cold Bay, about 22 miles away. There are numerous stories of deaths and near-deaths because of the lack of a road. Cold Bay has an all weather airport that’s used in medical emergencies. King Cove does not.

In December, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected a land swap that would have turned over 60,000 of acres to the feds in exchange for 2,000 acres needed to build the road.  She said it had the potential to harm the Pacific black brant, which is a small goose, and other wildlife in the refuge.

Both U.S. Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski support the road, but between the two, Murkowski has fought the most vigilantly for it. Pruitt and Meyer met with the senators before the meeting with Jewell. Murkowski suggested that Pruitt ask Jewell about the road. The question wasn’t out of Pruitt’s purview. In March, the Alaska state Legislature passed a joint resolution, urging Jewell to reconsider her decision.

Montana Majority Leader Art Wittich was at the meeting. He said that Jewell was gracious, educated and patient, and he was very appreciative of her taking time to meet with the group. However, the King Cove question seemed to rattle her, and her answer was not like the answers she gave on forest fires, say, or on fracking.

“A bunch of us in the room were surprised by her response,” Wittich said. He said that he didn’t remember specifically her saying “get over it,” but he she said that the comment was in keeping with her attitude on the subject, which he said was an “I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” attitude.

Murkowski spokesperson Robert Dillon put out a release on Friday shortly after the incident. “If Secretary Jewell doesn’t consider Interior’s trust responsibility to the Native peoples of American important to the department’s mission – President Obama should find one who does,” he said.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


10 thoughts on “Interior Secretary Jewell wishes Alaskans would ‘get over’ King Cove road

  1. Mae

    Ah, the King Cove road!

    The only issue with that road, once built, is keeping all those trophy “SPORT” hunters that now visit Cold Bay, OFF OF IT.

    Cold Bay gets a huge visitor boost from trophy hunters. And they have for several decades now.

  2. Stockholder

    Pruitt is a joke. He is one of the wing nuts that voted to give away windfall profits, unconstitutionally, to the trans-national corporations, leaving Alaska with billion dollar budget deficits.

    What the wing nuts like Pruitt need to explain to Alaskans is that their bankrupting of Alaska makes the Greenpeace crowd very, very happy. Why? Because Alaska is now broke. We will not be building any of the projects the environmentalists oppose. We are spending our savings at the rate of about $7 million per day, and will be doing so until the savings accounts (built up under ACES) are depleted in about four years.

    Maybe Pruitt can explain why he thinks it is appropriate to spend tens of millions on a road for a community that has only 600 residents. Taxpayers have already dumped tens of millions into this community to improve access. How come we never hear the people in King Cove talking about how they’d raise their OWN taxes to pay for this hypothetical road?

    When people move to these far flung areas they make a choice. They could live in Anchorage, but they choose not to. When people make decisions (personal responsibility) they need to be held accountable. Isn’t that the message we hear from Republicans all the time?

  3. peter

    Senator Begich should have immediately demanded Secretary Jewells resignation. But he did not. He is afraid to offend Sen. Harry Reid. As the third sitting Senator from Nevada, Sen. Begich has little allegiance to Alaska.

  4. Garand Fellow

    Jewell remains in step with the Barack Hussein Obama administration, telling Americans what has been decided.

  5. Lynn Willis

    Sick people obviously need this road and apparently the road might be good for the Black Brant. After finding articles on the internet such as; “Grit-site selection of Black Brant: Particle Size or Calcium Content?” perhaps if the road surface aggregate contained a calcium rich grit of optimal size, we might just “save two birds with one stone”.

  6. Anonymous

    This is why we need public access to and accountability from elected & appointed officials. Without media to support this, this is just spin and nothing else.

  7. Whitney

    Her comment speaks legions about her lack of compassion, sensitivity and callous disregard for Alaskans, particularly the residents of King Cove. The President should be embarrassed to have her in his cabinet. If this were the first time, it could be forgiven; however, its just one in a long string of insults that is indicative of her demeanor. These are the people that Begich supports 97% of the time. They suck, he sucks.

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