Business as Usual in the Land of the Midnight Sun | Citizens Against Government Waste

Business as Usual in the Land of the Midnight Sun

The WasteWatcher

Alaska has long received more than its fair share of federal funding.  Numerous studies throughout the years list the state as the biggest beneficiary of federal spending, receiving more per capita than anywhere else in the country.  The late Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) never apologized for directing money to his home state, and Alaska routinely ranked at the top of Citizens Against Government Waste’s Congressional Pig Book Summary pork per capita listing during Sen. Stevens’ time in office. Numerous examples of wasteful federal spending in the state over the past decade have garnered national attention, including the 2005 Bridge to Nowhere and the $75.5 million airport built last year on an uninhabited island.  Recent events indicate this culture of profligate spending in Alaska is set to continue well into the future. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has threatened to block the confirmation of Sally Jewell, the Obama Administration’s pick for Interior Secretary, in an attempt to force the construction of a road in her state linking the town of King Cove (about 750 year round residents) to Cold Bay and the latter’s all-weather airport.  Similar to many small communities in Alaska, King Cove does not have a road leading in or out, and relies on transportation via plane or boat.  The necessity of other methods of transportation in the event of medical emergencies is purported to be the reason behind the road. The Department of the Interior has long opposed the road because it would run through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s final Environmental Impact Statement, the road would cost $22.7 million.  An independent economic analysis by the Center for Sustainable Economy and The Wilderness Society suggests it would cost closer to $30 million.  However, both of these assessments are based on an estimate of about $1million per mile of construction costs.  Data from the Alaska Statewide Improvement Transportation budget projections from fiscal years 2010 – 2015, suggest that the total cost of the road could swell to more than $80 million – over $2 million per mile.  This calculation is based on the actual and projected construction costs of a seventeen mile road already being built in King Cove which the Izembek road would extend. Taxpayers have already helped finance a more cost effective and efficient mode of transport between King Cove and Cold Bay – $37.5 million was provided in the 1998 King Cove Health and Safety Act for a state of the art hovercraft and port terminals, a road to the hovercraft terminal from King Cove, and an upgraded tele-medicine facility.  However, the community stopped using the hovercraft, saying it cost too much to operate.  The vessel is now being used on the island of Akutan, ferrying fish processing employees of Trident Seafoods from the previously mentioned airport on the deserted island. The argument that the road will be safer than current methods of transportation from King Cove is dubious:

“Combined with darkness, avalanche conditions, and ice-glazed roads, an attempt to travel the proposed road would be foolish beyond any reason, regardless the emergency or business,” wrote the former Eastern Aleutian medical director for the U.S. Public Health Service, Peter Mjos, in May 2012.  “Any attempt to maintain the road for travel in such conditions would clearly jeopardize life.”

Predictably, it appears that commercial interests, not medical emergencies, are the primary driver of the project.  According to a February 24, 2013 Washington Post article,

“Originally, both area residents and state officials viewed the road as a way to bolster the region’s fishing industry.  In 1994, when King Cove passed its first resolution calling for its construction, it did not mention safety concerns and instead called for the road to ‘link together two communities having one of the State’s premier fishing port/harbors (including North America’s largest salmon cannery) in King Cove with one of the State’s premier airports at Cold Bay.’”

The proposed road connecting King Cove and Cold Bay appears to serve only local and special interests at the expense of federal taxpayers, and is evocative of other infamous Alaskan transportation projects.  If safety is truly the motivation for requesting additional federal assistance, then the federal government should demand that the hovercraft it issued be returned to saving lives in King Cove.  It is imperative that unnecessary road projects like this one are stopped before ever getting off the ground.

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