Young Defends Coconut Road Project

Posted April 30, 2008 at 3:51pm

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) on Wednesday lashed out at the Senate for “meddling in House affairs” and unfairly putting him at the center of an investigation into the controversial Coconut Road earmark.

Young took to the floor on Wednesday to defend himself before the House easily passed the measure, 358-51. The bill refers an investigation of the earmark to the Justice Department.

Young’s floor speech appears to be his most extensive remarks on the controversy to date.

Young, a former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is accused of inserting an earmark for a $10 million road project into a highway bill after it passed both chambers.

Young has admitted that an aide engineered the change, which took place during the enrollment process, apparently in verbal instructions given to the enrollment clerk by the Young staffer.

In his floor speech, Young warned that although he would vote for the bill, his colleagues were traveling a “slippery, slippery road” by referring the matter to Justice.

Young said bill enrollment “is not a process I own or control,” referring to other changes made during the enrollment process. “I don’t believe any chairman has that right. I hope this sets the record straight.”

The money for the Coconut Road project benefited a wealthy land developer and campaign contributor to Young.

“The goal was to provide $10 million for a study,” Young said. “The study’s funding did not go to any one person or to any one group of people. It was for the state of Florida. … This has always been a good project.”

The Alaska Republican said the purpose of the earmark was to ensure that Florida residents have a safe and effective evacuation route in the case of a national disaster. He emphasized that it was requested by the community and supported by the Congressman in the district.

The earmark “was totally justified and important to the area,” Young said. “The $10 million did not take any money away or divert money from the $81 million for I-75 widening.”

As part of the highway technical corrections bill, the Senate sought to correct the earmark for a road project near Fort Myers, Fla. But there was fierce debate over how to investigate the earmark’s mysterious origin.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wanted a bicameral panel to discover its sponsor, while Senate leaders favored a Justice Department probe, arguing that the Senate was overstepping its constitutional bounds by probing a House Member.

Senate leaders were victorious and the Justice Department language was tacked onto the bill, 63-29. House leaders quickly climbed on board.