Alaskans living on an isolated Aleutian Island, miles from emergency medical care, sued the Obama administration in 2013 for blocking a gravel road that would wind through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and allow residents to reach a vital airport.
Since then, the administration has not budged – and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (pictured) reportedly told concerned state lawmakers to “get over it” on Friday.
Majority Leader Lance Pruitt told KTUU News that the Secretary made the dismissive comments while meeting with him in Washington, D.C., on Friday.
“[Jewell] wishes Alaskans would just get over this,” Pruitt said. “She implied that this issue was very small.”
The Department of Interior immediately parried with a denial of Jewell’s alleged remarks. Jewell maintained a “desire to continue to work with the Alaska’s elected officials on the vast range of issues that are important to the state… She did not and would not tell anyone to ‘get over it,'” according to a department statement.
Pruitt, however, stood firm.
“I’m confident in what I heard her say. But what I think is important is, what I don’t want to get into a war of words with the secretary [over], what Alaskans and Americans need to understand most is the attitude and the callous response to the residents of King Cove in her answer to my question,” the lawmaker remarked.
Alaskan residents also remain skeptical of the department’s denial, pointing to Jewell’s cold demeanor towards the community and its predicament.
“I’m basically appalled. I am, however, not surprised,” Della Trumble told KTUU News. “[Jewell] has come across, in my opinion, as very cold and callous.”
Trumble spoke for the federally recognized Adgaadux Tribe, which lives in King Cove and can only travel to the Alaska mainland by boat or plane.
According to the local residents and KTUU News, the long and difficult boat ride to the nearest airport in Cold Bay killed many sick or injured people who could not survive the trek.