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Mr. Stevens Goes to Washington
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Winter 2000

Mr. Stevens Goes to Washington

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ALASKA IS NOT like any other state. Lay it over the Lower 48 and its 591,004 square miles would cover most of the western half of the country -- a fact Stevens delights in reminding his Senate colleagues of.

For the most part, the state is all mountains, glaciers, tundra, forests and seashores so fabulously beautiful and unspoiled that people who see it for the first time are often struck dumb with awe. But after the last tourist has left in September and the last eider duck has taken flight for a warmer climate, there are some 610,000 people or so left behind who are trying to make a living.

For many of them, just getting from one place to another often is an enormous difficulty, and when it comes to prying loose benefits from the federal government, Stevens is their top gun. A budget fight from 1998 is an instructive example of his clout. In October of that year, when Congress was rushing to adjourn for the election season, Alaska's all-Republican congressional delegation was at loggerheads with the Clinton administration over a road to connect the tiny village of King Cove with the even smaller settlement of Cold Bay, hundreds of miles down the Alaska Peninsula. It was a matter of survival, as they saw it. During the long, harsh winter, King Cove residents needed a way to drive to Cold Bay, where there was an all-weather airport. Without a road, residents had to rely on small boats or single-engine planes to cross bay waters to Cold Bay, and many risked death or injury each year trying to do so in emergencies.

The problem was that the road would cross through a wilderness portion of the world-famous Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, perilously close to where waterfowl by the millions feed on eelgrass to fatten up for their annual migration. The King Cove road suddenly was one of the hottest environmental controversies in Congress as the White House was poised to veto the legislation.

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