Florida enviros love Young?

Developer favored by environmentalists gave congressman $5,000

Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2007

Environmentalists in Florida must love Alaska Congressman Don Young. One of their favorite developers, Collier Enterprises of Naples, contributed $5,000 to his re-election campaign.

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Didn't hear about that? It's easy to find using Google. Unfortunately, many reporters decline checking anything that disproves their preconceived idea about Alaska and its congressional delegation.

What was written, instead, was that Michigan businessman Daniel Aronoff organized a fundraiser for Young, who then earmarked $10 million for a study of a Florida interchange near land owned by Aronoff.

One Alaska newspaper, on hearing the story, wrote that the earmark "creates even more suspicion that the man (Young) is corrupt to the core." Those are some pretty strong words without checking the story.

As Young said early this month, when the story broke in The New York Times, it is old news and more than somewhat distorted.

A fundraiser for Young was held in Florida in February 2005. There were 37 individuals or businesses from eight different states attending. They raised $41,750. Aronoff contributed only $500.

The big contributor at the fundraiser was Collier Enterprises whose officers contributed $5,000. Collier Enterprises is a darling of the environmental movement. The company claims "the environmental sensitivity of our development approach has brought public recognition and numerous environmental awards."

As for the $10 million earmark, the Fort Meyers News-Press and Bonita Daily News in Florida report that the interchange study is more than an assist to any one developer. The money would help the nearby Florida Gulf Coast University as well as improve access to the campus when the interchange is built. It also would improve access to Southwest Florida International Airport. The university, city and county transportation officials, and a citizens' advisory committee favor the $10 million study, the newspapers report. One county commissioner, Ray Judah, is opposed; he is unhappy about an unrelated issue.

The out-of-state news media quotes several Florida officials as saying they knew nothing about the earmark, and some oppose it. If Florida officials don't want the study, which at this point is all it is, they don't have to accept it. But Rep. Connie Mack IV, R-Fla., who represents the district, advises against that because the money would go back into the Federal Highway Trust Fund. The earmark can't be transferred to any other Florida project, which is the same for all 6,374 earmarks in the highway act. You either use it or lose it.

The real story is that this issue was manufactured by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. This kind of political activism is why Ketchikan and Alaska's congressional delegation have been criticized for the Gravina Island "bridge to nowhere," which they say would serve only 50 people. Some stories mention there is an airport on Gravina, and some boost the number of people to 80, but most ignore the necessity of the airport as well as access to it.

Young is a big boy with lots of political experience. He will get by this if Alaskans recognize his worth, check the accuracy of Outside media and view the alternative: electing a candidate from a party that shut down the Tongass timber industry, seeks to stop all logging, road building, mining and oil and gas exploration, and probably will oppose the natural gas pipeline as they did the trans-Alaska oil pipeline in 1970.

The same caution goes for Outside stories about Sen. Ted Stevens. The only thing the news media, fed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, can find is that he had a VECO Corp. official check invoices for construction on his home in Girdwood before he paid the bills. He had to have someone do it because he was in Washington, D.C., and VECO, despite the criminal activity of two of its officers, is a reputable worldwide construction company.

Instead of attempting to crucify our congressional delegation, Alaskans should be investigating the distortions of the charges against them. They should consider the source and encourage our delegation to keep fighting Alaska's fight in Washington, D.C. Without their seniority, Alaska would be in real trouble.

• Lew Williams Jr. is a retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News.

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