Another seriously injured patient has been required to undergo a risky flight by medevac in treacherous conditions from King Cove, Alaska, the result of the Interior Department's refusal to allow the construction of a 10-mile road.
A 58-year-old fisherman was transported by Coast Guard medevac Monday after severely injuring his eye when he was sprayed with a high-pressure hose while aboard the M/V Golden Alaska near Unimak Island in the North Pacific Ocean.
The ship brought him to the deep-water port at King Cove, Alaska, where physician's assistant Katie Eby said he needed to be transported to the Cold Bay airport in order to fly to the nearest hospital in Anchorage for treatment, according to a King Cove press release.
With winds gusting up to 60 mph, however, flights out of King Cove had been canceled, meaning that the only way to move the patient to the Cold Bay airport was by Coast Guard medevac.
"We managed his pain and bandaged his eye to protect it from further injury, but he needed to get to an eye specialist as soon as possible," said Ms. Eby in a statement. "Our treatment here at the King Cove Clinic is very limited. Fortunately, the brave Coast Guard crew was able to fly in when others could not. But if we had a road, we could have driven to Cold Bay much sooner to meet the life flight team and not risked the lives of the Coast Guard and the patient."
The episode marks the eighth emergency transport of a patient from the town's clinic to the Anchorage hospital since Interior Secretary Sally Jewell nixed in December an agreement to build a single-lane, 10-mile unpaved road from King Cove to Cold Bay.
Five years ago, federal and state officials reached an agreement on a land swap that would have traded 43,000 acres of state and private land for the 206 acres of federal land needed to build the road.
But the road would have run through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, and environmentalists have argued that the construction would imperil the eelgrass fed on by migratory birds.
"After careful consideration, I support the Service's conclusion that building a road through the Refuge would cause irreversible damage not only to the Refuge itself, but to the wildlife that depend on it," said Ms. Jewell in a Dec. 23 statement. "Izembek is an extraordinary place — internationally recognized as vital to a rich diversity of species — and we owe it to future generations to think about long-term solutions that do not insert a road through the middle of this refuge and designated wilderness."
Of the eight emergency flights, five have come via Coast Guard medevac at a minimum cost of $210,000 per flight, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who is pushing the Interior Department to reconsider its decision.
"In the meantime, King Cove tribal and community leaders are providing information to send to Jewell this month which will demonstrate, once again, that the road is the only viable transportation alternative," said the statement.
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