(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) honored Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) as its March Porker of the Month for her support of a parochial pet project involving the construction of a 38-mile dead-end “Road to Nowhere.” Sen. Murkowski has personally, and so far unsuccessfully, campaigned for a road to connect salmon canneries in King Cove with the neighboring Cold Bay and its airport.
In a March 11, 2014 Los Angeles Times op-ed, former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt described the original push for the project. In the 1990s, Sen. Murkowski’s father, former Alaska Senator Frank Murkowski (R), aided and abetted by partner in pork, the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R) colluded to scrounge taxpayer money to build a gravel road connecting the two towns in order to expedite the transportation of seafood. Instead of building the road, the Clinton Administration and Alaska’s senators agreed in 1998 to use taxpayer money to purchase a state-of-the-art hovercraft, touted at the time as a way to expedite medical evacuations. At $37.5 million, the hovercraft (along with port terminals, a road to the hovercraft terminal, and an upgraded telemedicine facility) was deemed more cost-effective than the road, which was estimated at $75 million, or $79,113 per King Cove resident.
Twenty years later, the hovercraft, called a “lifesaving machine” by the borough’s mayor, has been given away to another town to provide transportation for workers at an alternate seafood plant. Sen. Murkowski has once again revved up her campaign for the Izembek road, this time using the rationale of access to emergency medical care. In a March 14, 2014 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Sen. Murkowski responded to Babbitt’s allegations that the road would not only be financially burdensome to taxpayers, but pose both environmental and significant safety risks of its own, saying “Babbitt also makes much of the taxpayer dollars previously spent on alternatives to a road. But his personal favorite, a hovercraft, only proves his opening declaration that ‘nothing dies harder than a bad idea.’” If it was such a bad idea, one wonders why the Alaskans accepted the hovercraft in the first place.
In fact, Sen. Murkowski has attacked anyone who has tried to hinder the development of the road project. In February of 2013, she threatened to block the nomination of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell unless the road project got the green light. When that strategy ultimately failed and Secretary Jewell formally rejected the project in December of 2013, Sen. Murkowski voiced her opposition to Rhea Suh, the administration’s nominee for Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks and has maintained the pressure on the Obama Administration to overturn the decision.
Regardless of Sen. Murkowski’s altered rationale, it remains clear that private 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…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.’” The safety rationalization emerged only after it appeared unlikely that the Izembek road would receive federal funds.
The Post article also quoted former Eastern Aleutian medical director for the Public Health Service Peter Mjos, who explained, “Combined with darkness, avalanche conditions, and ice-glazed roads, an attempt to travel the proposed roads would be foolish beyond reason, regardless the emergency or business. Any attempt to maintain the road for travel in such conditions would clearly jeopardize life.”
In response to accusations that the road would be unsafe, Sen. Murkowski repeated the claim that the road would be a “lifesaver,” stating “Another suggestion that a road would be ‘impassable’ during winter storms is nonsense. Life in Alaska doesn’t stop when a few storm clouds gather overhead. We can drive through snow quite well, and it’s a lot easier than navigating a small boat through high seas.”
Although Sen. Murkowski may be the most vocal proponent of the Izembek road, she is not the only one. On January 15, 2014, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) introduced a bill to authorize construction of the Izembek road, just weeks after Interior Secretary Jewell rejected the idea. Rep. Don Young (D-Alaska) has also supported the project.
The proposed road is so fiscally unjustifiable that it has achieved the near-impossible in 2014: consensus between political parties. On March 14, 2014, a bipartisan group of former Interior Department officials supported Secretary Jewell’s rejection of the project. In a letter to the Secretary, the group, consisting of assistant secretaries from the George W. Bush, Clinton, Ford, and Nixon administrations stated, “Put bluntly, the Izembek road was a terrible idea in 1998, it was a terrible idea when you heroically rejected it last December, and it still remains a terrible idea today.”
It does not take a particularly discerning eye to conclude that the Izembek road is unworthy of federal funding, though Sen. Murkowski seems blind to the fact that a boondoggle is still a boondoggle, no matter what form. For her inability to recognize her own “bad idea,” and her continued campaign to fund a legacy transportation project that will predominantly benefit Alaskan commercial interests, CAGW names Sen. Lisa Murkowski its March Porker of the Month.
CAGW is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government. Porker of the Month is a dubious honor given to lawmakers, government officials, and political candidates who have shown a blatant disregard for the interests of taxpayers. Visit Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) for more information.