Thursday, December 22, 2005

Alaska Abridged

I was wondering when further news about the Alaskan "bridges to nowhere" was going to surface. Well, it finally has.

Anchorage Daily News has a fascinating story that details the connections that the chairman of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, Art Nelson, has with the fishing industry and presents a possible reason for the proposal of the "other" bridge. I say "possible" here only in deference to the fact that no one outside Alaska's political circle jerk really knows what the reason for these bridges might be. No one seems able to be to apprehend an actual good reason for the bridges, so what is detailed here may be the only one possible.

In any event, during the dust up surrounding the thousands of earmarks that had made their way into the transportation bill, the Gavina Island bridge seemed to attract the most attention. Though the Knik Arm bridge remained out of the spot light, it too appears to share a similar provenance with that of the Gavina Island proposal.

But first, we going to have back up a bit a present a little introduction to Alaska's inbred political aristocracy.

First, let's lay out the players:

Ted Stevens - US Senator (R-Ak), Chair, Senate Transportation Committee.
Frank Murkowski -
Governor (R) Alaska.
Lisa Murkowski - US Senator (R-Ak). Daughter, Gov. Murkowski.
Ben Stevens - Alaska state senator (R). Son, Senator Ted Stevens.
Don Young - House Rep. (R-Ak). Chair, House Transportation Committee.
Art Nelson - Chair, Alaska Board of Fisheries. Son-in-law, Don Young.
Appointed to Fish board by
Gov. Murkowski.

Now that we have defined the terms, we can begin. I will reiterate these relationships on occasion, because, as you might imagine from the relations above, things will get a little convoluted.

When the transportation bill was being assailed by critics on both sides of the isle for being riddled with pork barrel projects, one earmark drew special rebuke: some $450 million or so for two bridges in Alaska. These bridges, as far as anyone could tell, were proposed spans connecting the mainland with places to which Alaskans -- most Alaskans -- seemed uninterested in visiting.

Nonetheless, when fellow Republican critics denounced the projects, Ted Stevens (R-Ak) bellowed outrage and suggested that anyone questioning his taxpayer pork would have he, Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, to answer to. The noises went off.

Though the $453 million has been relabled and sent to Alaska as a general fund, that money is stilll going to Alaska. This despite the fact that most Alaskans preferred that the money go to Katrina reconstruction, a suggestion that, to Alaskan Rep. Don Young (R-Ak), who helped reconcile the House and Senate bills with Ted Stevens, was simply absurd:
They can kiss my ear! That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
Such an utterance clearly indicated that "united we stand" was not part of the 17-term congressman's lexicon.

Back when the transportation bill was passed, the Gavina Island bridge was being examined and, as the BHC pointed out, Gavina Island, while rather unpopulated and desolate, was home to at least one interested and interesting party: US Senator Lisa Murkowski's mother.

Now, that may seem like a trivial connection and, to reasonable people, it might be beyond imagining that politicians would bother to jack the US taxpayer for $230 million just so Lisa's mom can get off Gavina island a little more easily. But remember, we are discussing Alaskan politicians here, people who are most assuredly not reasonable, especially when it comes to spending the taxpayer nickel. And, in case you haven't yet noticed, the Alaskan political establishment has the distinct look of a mob family.

But news about the "other" bridge was wanting. Until now. It turns out that the proposed bridge to Port Mackenzie would connect the mainland to a point near where Art Nelson's company owns 60 acres of waterfront property. Nelson, you'll remember, is Don Young's son-in-law. Don Young is the House Rep. who helped write the House Transportation and House-Senate reconciliation bills that carefully preserved the earmarks for the two bridges.

Art Nelson, while being chairman of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, is also partners in a company called Point Bluff LLC, the company that owns the land on Point Mackenzie. Point Bluff was started in 2002, just one year before the appearance of the first version of Young's highway bill, which included an earmark for a bridge to Point Bluff's 60 acres.

Point Bluff is heavily involved in the fishing industry and at least one of Fish Chairman Nelson's business partners, Al Chaffee, is an owner of Highland Light Seafoods and Yardarm Knot Fisheries. At this point, it should not surprise anyone to learn that Nelson himself was employed by various fishing industry organisations until landing the sweet seat -- appointed by Gov. Murkowski -- as the man who "oversees" the industry itself.

This can all be rather confusing, so I think a summary of the bridge connections is entirely appropriate at this point:

Don Young (R-Ak) is chairman of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. This committee specially earmarked and appropriated $453 million for two bridges in Alaska. One of those bridges is planned from the mainland to the nearly unpopulated Gavina Island, where lives the mother of US Senator Lisa Murkowski, daughter of Alaska's Governor, Frank Murkowski.

The other bridge will cross to the near equally unpopulated Port Mackenzie, close to where Don Young's son-in-law and Alaska Board of Fisheries chairman Art Nelson is partners in a fishing industry company which owns 60 acres of land there.

Nelson, of course, maintains that there is clearly no conflict of interest in any of these arrangements.



Blogger The Misanthrope said...

This sounds like something out of a third world country,

7:42 AM  

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