ANCHORAGE - Alaska Rep. Don Young or his staff may have changed the language in a $10 million earmark after it had already been approved for another project, a retired federal government budget expert said in report released this week.
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Some local planners say they didn't ask for the earmark - first approved to widen Interstate 75 in Florida - and they still don't know how Young got it for a project known as the Coconut Road interchange.
The leader of a Florida transportation planning organization asked researcher Darla Letourneau, a retired former congressional liaison to the Department of Labor in Washington, to look into the matter.
The Senate and House both voted to approve the interstate earmark in 2005 as a part of a sweeping highway bill that went through Young's Transportation committee, Letourneau told the Anchorage Daily News.
At some point after that, while the bill was being cleaned up for the president's signature, the earmark was designated specifically for the Coconut Road interchange, she said.
Letourneau said it's not unusual for minor grammatical and technical changes to take place during the final stage of the legislative process, but in this case the changes were substantial.
The changes morphed the earmark's purpose from being a general road-widening project to benefiting one specific interchange, Letourneau said. Additionally, the interchange had already been opposed by many local officials because they said it would open environmentally fragile lands to development, Letourneau said.
"It's definitely not consistent with the rules, at least on its face," Letourneau said. "It raises a lot of questions in my mind. It's just another example of abuse of power."
The New York Times connected Young's appropriation to Daniel J. Aronoff of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., whose companies own thousands of acres that would increase in value if a Coconut Road connector were built.
The earmark was inserted into the 2005 legislation shortly after Aronoff helped raise $40,000 in Florida for Young's re-election campaign, the Daily News reported.
On Wednesday, guests at one of Young's biggest Anchorage fundraisers - his annual pig roast - included several Washington lobbyists including Rick Alcalde, a frequent Young contributor. Alcalde's clients include Aronoff's real estate business, the Landon Companies, according to federal disclosure forms.
Young's office would not comment to the newspaper on the earmark, calling it a "recycled story."
Young has previously said he put the earmark in the bill at the request of community residents, and that he thought it would pay for transportation improvements to assist with hurricane evacuation.
However, in an interview this week with The Associated Press, Young said, "I think it's the right thing for the state of Florida, and you know, right now, they're supportive of it. It gives an escape route and it gives an overpass that's necessary for the university there. And if you did a little research you would have found that out. Do a little homework; it helps out instead off just reading The New York Times."
Young and U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, are currently being investigated by the FBI for possible ties to VECO Corp., an Anchorage-based oil field services company.
Stevens has been under a federal investigation for a 2000 renovation project more than doubling the size of his home in Girdwood that was overseen by former VECO CEO Bill Allen, who has pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska state legislators.
Young is under federal investigation as part of the ongoing corruption probe, a federal law enforcement official has told The Associated Press, commenting only on condition of anonymity. Part of the Young investigation involves his campaign finance practices, the law enforcement official said.