WASHINGTON – The House nixed a mysterious $10 million earmark for a Florida highway project while calling for a Justice Department investigation into the earmark's origins, a probe that likely will set its crosshairs first on Rep. Don Young.
Young, R-Alaska, made an about-face on Wednesday and fell in line with the bill to axe the $10 million Florida road study after he received strong criticism for his support of the 2005 earmark and his questionable relationship with a Florida land developer connected to the project.
Along with Young's support, the House passed the bill — a so-called technical corrections bill to the 2005 highway bill — with strong bipartisan support on a vote of 358-51. Eleven House members stayed neutral on the bill by casting "present" votes.
From the House floor, Young called the fix "a good bill" and said he was supporting it. But he also delivered a warning against the Senate's "meddling" in House affairs, and he defended his support of the project, saying it was not a favor for a friend, but rather a project supported by residents.
The earmark — inserted after the highway bill was approved — was to provide $10 million to study the widening of Coconut Road, which is a secondary route to Interstate 75 near Fort Myers, Fla.
"The goal was to provide $10 million for a study — not to build, but study this (road) interchange. ... This funding was totally justified and important to the area," Young said.
"Some of the media have made this study into being about one land owner in the area," Young said.
Critics point to Young's relationship with developer Daniel Aronoff. Young flew to Florida on a private plane owned by Aronoff, who later helped raise $40,000 for Young. Aronoff owns thousands of acres along Coconut Road.
Although Young was the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman at the time the bill passed, Young denies being behind the secretive insertion of the spending measure, saying he was not in the private "enrollment" room where such an earmark might have been placed into the bill, and there are any number of other people who could have done the deed.
"This study funding did not go to any one person. It did not got to any one group of people. The funding was to go to the state of Florida, where they choose to proceed with the study. This has always been a good project," Young said, adding that it would have been an added hurricane evacuation route.
Earlier this month, the Senate added the provision calling for the Justice Department investigation of the matter, a provision adopted under the House vote Wednesday.
Young admonished the notion while saying he would support an investigation, if that's what his House colleagues wanted.
"The Senate is meddling in House affairs. I'm supporting this bill. I welcome, if you want to welcome an investigation, into the House. I will support that. But remember, that is a slippery, slippery road which we're about to be involved in," Young said.
The fix to the earmark is nestled on page 84 of the 136-page bill approved Wednesday in a single paragraph that states the change will be made "in item number 462 by striking the project description and inserting 'I-75 widening and improvements in Collier and Lee Counties, Florida.' "
FOX News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.