ANCHORAGE - Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens hasn't lost his touch.
So far, with eight of 13 bills approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee or the full Senate, Stevens' tally comes to more than $600 million in federal money for Alaska.
"We got substantially everything we asked for. I haven't added it up," said Stevens, who was chairman of the Appropriations Committee until Democrats took control of the Senate two months ago. He's now the ranking Republican.
There's money for visitor centers, roads and ports, salmon studies, sewer work and sea lion research. There's money for community development grants and a child abuse investigation program.
There is $450,000 to restore the banks of the Kenai River, $750,000 in virus-free seed potato research. There's $2.25 million for a ski area in Fairbanks and $21 million for a fisheries lab in Juneau. And there's a lot more.
Budget watchdogs count Stevens as one of Congress' top pork producers. Citizens Against Government Waste say Alaska is No. 1 in pork dollars per capita.
"Consistently, year after year, there are just a ton of Alaska projects, and it's all because of Ted Stevens," said David Williams, vice president of policy for the group.
Stevens vigorously disputes that his Alaska add-ons are wasteful or frivolous. The senator says Alaska has been left out of many federal programs and has enormous needs.
Stevens said he's probably proudest this year of the money aimed at reducing Alaska's small-plane fatalities, including $11 million for rural runway lights, $3 million to train pilots to be safer, and $5 million to better provide weather information.
The tally for Alaska is likely to grow considerably when the Senate takes up the remaining spending bills after its August vacation. They include some of the most important for Alaska: defense spending, military construction and the bill funding the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.
As in past years, the Denali Commission is again one of Stevens' bigger spending priorities. His amendment increases its basic funding from $30 million to $40 million. Other federal sources are expected to add about $20 million.
The Denali Commission, created by Stevens in 1998 to improve infrastructure in rural Alaska, is concentrating on village health clinics, fuel tanks and rural energy issues.
Another of Stevens' big spending priorities this year is Steller sea lion research, with projects totaling $40 million. That's in addition to about $44 million Stevens added last year.
Concern over declining sea lion numbers has threatened to shut down Alaska's pollock industry last year.
"The pollock industry is the largest fisheries industry in the United States," Stevens said. "It's more than a $1 billion industry that could seriously suffer, if not being put totally off bounds, if we don't get answers to some of these questions about mammals, particularly Steller sea lions."
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