Staff and Wire Reports
WASHINGTON -- Repairs for rural bridges, an under-highway safe crossing for turtles and efforts to protect the sage grouse population are among 100 projects Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn pointed to Monday as questionable federal stimulus spending.
Republican Tom Coburn's list includes projects others would identify as ideal for creating jobs and benefiting generations of Americans: skateboard parks, streetscapes, upgrades of park facilities, bike trails and parking garages.
Coburn's list is partially a collection of news stories that questioned local projects to be funded under President Barack Obama's economic recovery program. The White House has promoted the program by selecting favorable newspaper stories.
Two projects on the are in the Sooner State, including a sewer treatment plant in Perkins.
Earlier this month, an investigation revealed that because of the strings attached to federal stimulus dollars, the projected cost skyrocketed by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"Perkins needs that water plant, and they should have that water plant. But we shouldn't have had to pay 50 percent more because we used stimulus money," Sen Coburn said.
Perkins' homeowners saw their utility rates go up 60 percent this year. The stimulus money didn't help alleviate their burden.
The other Oklahoma projected singled out comes from Woodward Oklahoma, where the Army Corps of Engineers was set to receive a million dollars to construct a guardrail around a lake that doesn't actually contain any water.
That project has been nixed, but Coburn said the initial approval of this project illustrates a lack of oversight.
"We were sloppy, we're not smart about the way we did it, and they way we're doing it," Coburn said.
One of the most fiscally conservative senators, Coburn cited the repair of 37 rural bridges in Wisconsin that average little more than 500 vehicles apiece each day -- with one carrying no more than 10 cars a day. The projects jumped over larger, urban repairs because they were "shovel ready."
Local officials had a different perspective. Coburn, for instance, criticized $840,000 to repair a bridge in Portage County, Wis., that carries 260 vehicles a day largely to a backwater saloon and a country club.
Bill Weronke, the county highway commissioner, said the bridge has "lived its life expectancy" and is dangerous. "It's a pretty crucial bridge in Portage County," he said. He added it soon will be a shortcut to a state highway.
Coburn also criticized a $3.4 million Florida Department of Transportation project for an "eco-passage" -- an underground wildlife road crossing for turtles and other wildlife in Lake Jackson, Fla., along U.S. 27.
"Why did the turtle cross the road? To get to the other side of a stimulus project," the Coburn report says.
Josh Boan, the Florida Transportation Department's natural resources manager, said a large number of turtles and other wildlife are killed in the area. In addition to protecting wildlife, he said the project is needed for safety: turtles hit by vehicles can become flying projectiles.
The project north of Tallahassee is to begin in September.
An administration spokesman said the stimulus program already is a great success.
Ed DeSeve, senior adviser to the president for Recovery Act implementation, said, "We have approved more than 20,000 Recovery Act projects to get America's economy moving again.
"With 20,000 projects approved, there are bound to be some mistakes. When we find them, we have been transparent about it, and worked on a bipartisan basis to shut them down immediately. Sen. Coburn's report, however, is filled with inaccuracies, including criticisms of projects that have already been stopped, projects that never were approved, and some projects that are working quite well."
Coburn also criticized:
--A Bureau of Land Management project to study the impact wind farms have on the sage grouse population in Oregon. The proposal calls for hiring people to tag sage grouse in areas where wind farms may be built, to help determine where turbines could be located.
--$1.5 million in stimulus money for a $5 million new wastewater treatment plant in Perkins, Okla., his home state. Coburn said the stimulus money came with strings that will increase the costs. With a new total cost of $7.2 million, the city will be forced to borrow money and, as a result, utility taxes have increased by 60 percent this year, the senator said.
--Grants and loans totaling $1.3 million to Solon Township in Leelanau County, Mich., to help pay for construction of a wastewater treatment plant. Local opposition killed the project. The money will now be used for a future treatment plant, for which there is no plan and questionable local support.
--Road signs costing $300 each, being placed at construction sites to alert motorists that the project is being paid for by the stimulus money. Transportation Department spokesman Jill Zuckman said each state decides whether to use stimulus money for signs, and the cost would vary in each state.
--A $3 million project to repair taxiways at Hanscom Field, Mass., which Coburn said is for corporate jets. Richard Walsh, a spokesman for the independent state agency that runs the airport, Massport, said only 18 percent of the traffic at the airport is for corporate jets. Most of the use, 70 percent cent, is for flight students, he said.
--Montana's state-run liquor warehouse, to receive $2.2 million in stimulus cash to install skylights. The project is part of the $27.7 million the state has been awarded for energy programs.
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