Bridge would benefit Young in-law

Congressman's daughter's spouse is part owner of adjacent 60 acres

Posted: Monday, December 19, 2005

ANCHORAGE - A proposed $229 million bridge across Knik Arm near Anchorage could significantly increase the value of adjacent land owned in part by a son-in-law of U.S. Rep. Don Young, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The 60-acre tract near Point MacKenzie is due west of Elmendorf Air Force Base and offers unobstructed views of Anchorage.

"It's beautiful property," said Art Nelson, a part owner of the parcel. The Daily News said Nelson is married to Young's daughter, Joni. Nelson is chairman of the state Fisheries Board.

Young, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee since 2001, has publicly declared for years that a bridge across Knik Arm was among his legislative goals.

The Knik Arm crossing, along with a $223 million appropriation for the Gravina Island bridge near Ketchikan, are among projects included in a federal highway bill. Young and U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, both Alaska Republicans, served on a conference committee over the summer that reconciled House and Senate versions of the highway bill.

A woman who answered the telephone Sunday at Young's Washington, D.C., office said he could not be reached for comment. The woman, who identified herself as Young's wife, declined an Associated Press request for comment. Under the highway bill, the proposed Knik Arm crossing would be named Don Young's Way.

The Daily News said the 60-acre parcel is owned by a five-member partnership, Point Bluff LLC. Nelson has a 10 percent share, the newspaper said.

If a road were built, a commute to downtown Anchorage from Point Bluff's land would take about two hours. A bridge would shorten the drive significantly and make the land much more valuable, the newspaper said.

The Point Bluff partnership was formed in December 2002, a year before a first version of Young's highway bill unsuccessfully sought money for a Knik bridge.

Nelson said he had discussed the property acquisition in family gatherings with Young, adding that information that Young wanted to fund the bridge was far from privileged: Young was promoting a Knik Arm crossing before he assumed the transportation chairmanship in January 2001. In a speech to Commonwealth North in Anchorage in February 2001, Young said his chairmanship would be a platform for realizing projects such as a bridge across Knik Arm and another bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island.

Critics and satirists have dismissed the bridges as spans to nowhere; but detractors gained traction when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and Young and Stevens resisted calls to return bridge money to help fund reconstruction.

They eventually were forced to give up the earmarks, leaving the Alaska Legislature to decide how to spend the combined $452 million. Gov. Frank Murkowski on Friday proposed spending $185 million on both bridges, the maximum amount under federal-state spending formulas.

The Daily News said each of Nelson's partners is involved in the commercial fishing industry, which the Fisheries Board regulates.

Nelson said the Point MacKenzie land partnership represented no conflict of interest with the board because no decision he made on the board could affect the value of the land. And while the partners might have been affected by industrywide board decisions, such as the setting of the crab harvest strategy for the Bering Sea or salmon restrictions in Bristol Bay, Nelson said that none of them had come before the board individually.

Aside from his disclosures to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, Nelson said he never was required to declare a conflict involving Point Bluff at the Fisheries Board.

Land held by Point Bluff partners is only accessible by boat or rough road and sits about five miles north of the projected west landfall of the bridge.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough owned the land when it was nominated for public disposal in 2000. Available borough records do not say who suggested the sale, the Daily News said.

On June 28, 2000, the Mat-Su Borough Planning Commission advised against a sale until a regional plan could be completed that included roads. But the assembly overrode the recommendation on Aug. 1, 2000, and directed the land be included in the regular over-the-counter land-sale brochure.

Nelson said his 10 percent stake in Point Bluff cost him $33,000 to $34,000. The other four partners have 22.5 percent shares, according to filings with the state Division of Corporations.

Nelson said his partners wanted the land as an investment. He said he'd like to eventually sell his share but keep enough land to build a home, bridge or no bridge.

"It's not like this property's going to be a boom of Quickstops and gas stations, all that kind of stuff," he said. "For me, it was bought as perhaps some investment, perhaps hopefully a place I can build a place on.

"If the bridge goes through, I may look at building and living there sooner, but otherwise, maybe it would be a few more years down the road."

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