WASHINGTON -- Sarah Palin appeared to sour on the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere" in 2007, writing in private emails to her staff that she might support returning funds for the bridge to the federal government for other infrastructure projects.
As the bridge, planned to connect the 50-resident Gravina Island with another island, began to draw fire from critics who called it pork-barrel spending, Palin appears to have had something of a change of heart on the issue, according to a trove of emails from her time as Alaska governor released on Friday.
Palin officially abandoned the plan for the bridge in Sept. 2007, a move touted during her campaign as John McCain's running mate the following year. Palin was widely criticized for claiming to have killed the "Bridge to Nowhere" because funds to the project had already gone dry.
But although she had previously supported the bridge, private emails reveal that she did not simply end the project to score a political win.
Palin said in a debate for the 2006 governor's race that she supported the "Bridge to Nowhere."
"I wouldn’t [cancel the project]," she said. "I’m not going to stand in the way of progress that our congressional delegation -- in the position of strength that they have right now -- they’re making those efforts for the state of Alaska to build up our infrastructure. I would not get in the way of progress."
But Palin's emails reveal some shifts in her thinking by 2007. In an Aug. 2, 2007, email to her spokeswoman and another staffer, Palin said the team "MUST come out with a strong position against AK's perceived 'Bridge to Nowhere' so we quit looking clueless and selfish across the nation." She wrote that the state was not pushing for a $350 million bridge, but instead access to Gravina more generally.
There might be more political benefits to giving up the money, particularly because the Gravina bridge was unlikely to be completed during her term, she said:
The nation needs to be spending $ on fixing what we have - Minnesota needs "bridge money" today more than we need a few Alaskans to perpetuate the nonsensicle notion that our Gravina earmark is more important than fixing aged infrastructure.
We would gain so much if we get that message out there - that the nation can pull, and work, together and make wise decisions on federal priorities... we should see that earmark redirected to Minnesota's tragedy be the Gravina bridge isn't going to happen on our watch anyway.
A few days before, Palin exchanged emails with her staff saying the state would not fund the Gravina project, after Michael Tibbles, a member of her staff, wrote to her that the project had stalled.
Tibbles said the governor's hands were somewhat tied on the issue.
"It was a federal earmark that we can not use on anything else," he wrote on July 31, 2007. "Also since the award was already made to the contractor prior to us coming in we would have been exposed to damages to the contractor and even paying the feds back if were to stop the work."
Palin wrote to staff members that day that she was frustrated with the federal government for its handling of the project:
If the feds can't fund these projects that have minimal public support, then they're not going to happen. I am very frustrated to hear that funds are being spent on Gravina, still, yet the project does NOT have my support be of the funding issues, long-term.
Mike - PLEASE tell DOT their actions makes us look inconsistent (and clueless) and Federal officals will take it out on us with future funding requests be of all the 'problems' we're having to clean up - including corruption and missplaced priorities from the past.
Palin went on to abandon the plan for the bridge in September 2007.
"Ketchikan desires a better way to reach the airport, but the $398 million bridge is not the answer," she said in a statement at the time.