March 17, 2022
(Anchorage, AK) – The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s invalidation of an Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) land exchange agreement between the Department of Interior (DOI) and King Cove Corporation (KCC).
KCC intends to use the land it will obtain in the exchange to build a road to the City of Cold Bay and facilitate access to the all-weather airport for medical evacuations.
“My administration stands with the community of King Cove in celebrating this latest development in a long legal process to build a simple one lane gravel road for emergency services that will save lives,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy. “This case clearly demonstrates just how far radical environmental groups will go to lock up our state.”
“The Ninth Circuit’s decision is a considerable win for the prospects of developing a life-saving road connecting King Cove to the Cold Bay airport,” said Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor.
The court found that DOI’s decision to grant a road corridor across the Izembek peninsula in exchange for environmentally sensitive shoreline lands owned by KCC complied with the Administrative Procedures Act and with the purposes of the ANILCA.
Secretary Bernhardt adequately explained that the value of a road to the KCC community outweighed the harm that it would cause to environmental interests. The court agreed that the purposes of ANILCA include considerations of the economic and social needs of Alaska and its people, distinguishing this ruling from a decision denying a similar exchange under the Obama administration.
“This opinion clearly lays out ANILCA’s balancing requirements for federal land managers in Alaska,” said Sean Lynch, Assistant Attorney General in the Transportation Section. “The decision harmonizes a number of earlier Ninth Circuit decisions that were being read by environmental groups to argue ANILCA’s purposes are limited to the protection of conservation and subsistence values.”
The court further found that ANILCA’s rules for granting transportation and utility corridor easements (ANILCA Title XI) are not applicable to land exchanges authorized under ANILCA.
The matter was remanded back to the Alaska district court, as the district court did not previously rule on the plaintiffs’ claims under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.
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