Locals say Sarah Palin flip flopped on "Bridge to Nowhere"; Money not returned
Alaska abandons controversial Ketchikan bridge project
By STEVE QUINN
The Associated Press
JUNEAU, Alaska — Some called it a bridge to the future. Others called it the bridge to nowhere.
The bridge is going nowhere.
On Friday, the state of Alaska officially abandoned the controversial project in Ketchikan that became a national symbol of federal pork-barrel spending.
It closes a chapter that has brought the state reams of ridicule, but it also leaves open wounds in a community that fought for decades to get federal help.
"We went through political hot water — tons of it — and not just nationally but internationally," said Ketchikan-Gateway Borough Mayor Joe Williams. "We have nothing to show for it."
The $398 million bridge would have connected Ketchikan to its airport on a sparsely populated nearby Gravina island.
"We will continue to look for options for Ketchikan to allow better access to the island," Gov. Sarah Palin said. "The concentration is not going to be on a $400 million bridge."
Palin has directed the state Department of Transportation to find the most "fiscally responsible" alternative for access to the airport.
Palin said without federal funding, the state cannot afford a bridge, so the best option would be to upgrade the current ferry system.
Local officials called the decision premature, saying it came without warning.
"For somebody who touts process and transparency in getting projects done, I'm disappointed and taken aback," said Ketchikan Republican Rep. Kyle Johansen.
"This is contrary to about every statement she has ever made," he said. "We worked 30 years to get funding for this priority project."
In her speech the other day where Sen. John McCain introduced her as his running mate, Palin said -
I've championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. In fact, I told Congress thanks, but no thanks, on that "bridge to nowhere." If our state wanted a bridge, I said, we'd build it ourselves.
That came as surprise to those familiar with her record on earmarks and the bridge in particular.
The money was not sent back to the federal government, but spent on other projects. That was hardly “Thanks but no thanks.” In his statement announcing Palin as his running mate Friday, McCain said, “She put a stop to the “bridge to nowhere” that would have cost taxpayers $400 million.” One of the immediate related questions for Alaska is whether Palin plans to change her position and accept McCain’s view that earmarks should be abolished and that any bill containing them should be vetoed. This is significant because the state, along with dozens of local governments and nonprofit groups across Alaska, routinely asks Congress to fund everything from new buildings to docks and road work. The Alaska Railroad alone asked for about $80 million this year, while Nome wanted $13 million for wind generation, North Pole asked for nearly $7 million and the Fairbanks North Star Borough asked for about $25 million. McCain has made his position clear. “I will veto every bill with earmarks until the Congress stops sending bills with earmarks on them. I will keep vetoing. I will make them famous. You will know their names, ” McCain said in a speech on April 15, according to video on his Web site. He also said, “I have a clear record of not asking for a single earmark for my state.” Alaska has a clear record of seeking earmarks. In March, Palin’s Washington, D.C., representative, John Katz, wrote a defense of earmarks, published in the Juneau Empire in which he said the state is cutting back on its wish list. The Palin administration requested 31 earmarks this year totaling $200 million and “we are not abandoning earmarks altogether,” Katz said, as they are a “legitimate exercise of Congress’ constitutional power to amend the budget proposed by the president.”
In cancelling the bridge project, she actually said this:
"The federal government is less and less interested in continuing to fund these projects, she said. "It can't be a state priority for DOT when we have much-needed road and bridge improvements. Our intention is to work with the community to find a sensible and efficient shuttle connection, a better ferry service."
The bridge project, when it was cancelled, was $329 million short of full funding, according to Palin's cancellation statement.
The so-called "Bridge to Nowhere" was to link Ketchikan, on Revillagigedo Island, to its airport on Gravina Island.
This is the press release her office gave out when the project was cancelled.
State of Alaska > Governor > News > News Archive
Gravina Access Project Redirected Printer Friendly
Gravina Access Project Redirected
September 21, 2007, Juneau, Alaska - Governor Sarah Palin today directed the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to look for the most fiscally responsible alternative for access to the Ketchikan airport and Gravina Island instead of proceeding any further with the proposed $398 million bridge.
“Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer,” said Governor Palin. “Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island,” Governor Palin added. “Much of the public’s attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here. But we need to focus on what we can do, rather than fight over what has happened.” The Department of Transportation has approximately $36 million in federal funds that will become available for other projects with the shutdown of the Gravina Island bridge project. Governor Palin has directed Commissioner Leo von Scheben to review transportation projects statewide to prepare a list of possible uses for the funds, while the department also looks for a more affordable answer for Gravina Island access.
“There is no question we desperately need to construct new roads in this state, including in Southeast Alaska, where skyrocketing costs for the Alaska Marine Highway System present an impediment to the state’s budget and the region’s economy,” said von Scheben.
“The original purpose of this project was to improve access to Gravina Island, and we will continue to work with the community to help them attain that goal,” von Scheben said.
The commissioner said his department would continue to work with local officials to discuss future plans for development of Gravina Island.
Here's what she told the Anchorage Daily News on October 22, 2006, during the race for the governor's seat (via Nexis):
5. Would you continue state funding for the proposed Knik Arm and Gravina Island bridges?
Yes. I would like to see Alaska's infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later. The window is now--while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist.
Just how does Gov. Palin really feel about earmarks? Ask her special counsel:
My Turn: Palin not abandoning earmarks altogether
By John Katz | Juneau Empire
With the coming of spring in the nation's capital, Congress has begun its annual ritual of producing a federal budget.
While Congressional earmarks represent less than 1 percent of the federal budget, a much higher percentage of the appropriations debate focuses on this topic.
One reason for this is several controversial earmarks and election-year politics. Another is that earmarks have become a metaphor for the federal budget generally. It's a lot easier to talk about earmarks than to address difficult budget issues, such as burgeoning domestic entitlement programs and defense spending.
Earlier this year, President Bush and the congressional leadership announced that the total number and dollar amount of earmarks must be reduced significantly.
The Palin administration has responded to this message by requesting 31 earmarks, down from 54 last year. Of these, 27 involve continuing or previous appropriations and four are new. The total dollar amount of these requests has been reduced from about $550 million in the previous year to just less than $200 million.
Further, the governor has insisted that each Alaska request must demonstrate an important federal purpose and strong public support.
We also have heard that, wherever possible, a state or local match should be provided. The state's budget requests incorporate this principle.
So, it is important to note there is no longer a "free lunch" at the federal level. Most federal requests have state or local budget consequences as well.
Congressional earmarks for roads and bridges have received much attention in Congress and have become a principal impetus for reform. Unfortunately, Alaska has featured prominently in this discussion.
The Palin administration has responded to this unwanted attention in a number of ways. Certain previous decisions concerning transportation earmarks are being re-examined. Currently, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is conducting an audit to determine the status of all recent earmarks.
Palin has said the state can either respond to the changing circumstances in Congress or stick its head in the sand. We believe that by recognizing the necessity for change, we can enhance the state's credibility in the appropriations process and in other areas of federal policy as well.
The governor is very much aware of the importance of the federal budget to virtually every Alaskan. In responding to the new realities, we are not abandoning earmarks altogether but are seeking to constrain and document them in the ways discussed here.
The Juneau Empire identifies John Katz as director of State-Federal Relations and Special Counsel to Gov. Sarah Palin.