KETCHIKAN - Congress approved millions of dollars for bridge projects in Ketchikan and Anchorage and the state should respect the intent of the federal government - even without "earmarks," said U.S. Rep. Don Young.
Congress, under pressure from the national media, removed earmarks designating the money for bridges, Young said, and now "Rainbelt legislators" in Alaska have initiated a feeding frenzy in hopes of grabbing money for their constituents.
He said the bridge projects are key to Alaska's future and more important than road maintenance projects.
"They're fixing potholes for today and forgetting about tomorrow," Young said. "If you look at the future of this nation, bridges have to be built."
Young was in Ketchikan on Monday for Presidents Day festivities.
One bridge project would link Ketchikan on Revillagigedo Island to tiny Pennock Island and then Gravina Island, the site of the community's airport.
The other bridge would cross Cook Inlet and link Anchorage to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough at Point MacKenzie.
Pressure to quash earmarks grew when the bridge projects were condemned nationally as examples of congressional pork, particularly as newspaper editorials juxtaposed the Alaska projects with money needed for hurricane relief in the South.
A House-Senate conference committee removed the earmarks in November.
The state still received the money, but can spend it on other transportation projects. A fight over bridge money is expected in the Legislature.
Young said he was disappointed that earmarks for the bridge projects were removed. If he had been in charge, it likely would not have happened, he said.
Hurricane Katrina was the main reason the committee chose to remove the special designation and Young criticized U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, for suggesting that the bridge money be spent on disaster relief.
"He has earmarks in that bill for himself," Young said.
Young said the nation still is not ready for the upcoming hurricane season, even after Katrina hit last year, in part because the Federal Emergency Management Agency remains part of the Department of Homeland Security.
Young has introduced a measure to take FEMA from under that umbrella. If it stood alone, he said, its officials would have the authority to make critical decisions.