Interior Secretary Haaland will visit Alaska this month

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Interior Secretary Deb Haaland plans to visit Alaska this month, a trip that is expected to include a visit to the community at the heart of a longstanding dispute over a proposed land swap to build a road through a national wildlife refuge.

Haaland had planned to visit King Cove last year, but the trip never materialized.

The Department of the Interior said Monday that Haaland plans to visit “several communities and sites” in Alaska the week of April 17, including Anchorage, Fairbanks and King Cove.

Residents of King Cove have long sought a land connection through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to Cold Bay, which is approximately 29 kilometers away and has an all-weather airport. They call it a security issue.

The sanctuary, near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, contains internationally recognized habitat for migrating waterfowl.

In 2013, Interior Department officials refused a land swap, and efforts to move forward with one under the Trump administration have faced legal challenges. A lawyer for the US Department of Justice, arguing a position taken under the Trump administration, told a federal appeals court panel last year that Haaland planned to review the case and visit King Cove before to take its own position on the matter.

Interior Department spokesman Tyler Cherry did not respond to questions about whether she was still weighing a decision. He said by email he had no further details to share about the trip beyond those in the announcement sent Monday.

Last month, a federal appeals court panel overturned a decision that rejected a land swap and sent the decision back to a federal judge in Alaska for further review. Conservation groups had taken legal action over the proposed swap.

Betty K. Park