Stimulus Money: Did It Complete the Job?

Where Stimulus Act money went in the D.C. area

It was the promise of big bucks -- billions of dollars to bail out the economy -- but did the Stimulus Act complete the job?

The News4 I-Team's Tisha Thompson took a look at what happened to the money in our area.

When the federal government started dishing out $830 billion, the goal was simple: Save and create jobs while stimulating the economy with "shovel ready" projects.

Three years later, NBC and the non-profit watchdog ProPublica partnered to see where the money went, and the I-Team discovered what "shovel ready" really means depends on where you live.

Front Royal, Va., Town Manager Steve Burke was shovel ready. "This is Happy Creek," he said, pointing to the large creek that flows through Front Royal. For years, the town had plans ready to go for the Happy Creek Trail. All it needed was $50,000.

"This is what's new,” Burke said, as he walked along a new strip of black pavement next to the creek. He said two months after the stimulus money arrived, Front Royal had its trail and a few more jobs. “Yes, there were jobs created with this project.”

Happy Trail is one of nearly 7,000 Stimulus Act projects in Maryland, Virginia and the District. That’s more than $19 billion in taxpayer dollars.

We found millions went to construction projects, medical research and public safety. Audits, computer programming and technology upgrades.

Wolf Trap used some to fix up its stage.  The City of Laurel bought Segways. Even the White House used stimulus money to inspect its electrical system.

But the News4 I-Team found only half of the projects in our area have been completed.

Some haven't even started.

"In 1987, this was considered state of the art," said Emmitsburg, Md., Town Manager David Haller, pointing to his town’s wastewater treatment plant. Haller said he had a serious problem. The state and the federal government ordered the town to build a new plant because this large field filled with pipes and bubbling lagoons was violating environmental limits.

"We produce a lot of phosphorous, which creates algae blooms,” Haller explained. “Algae blooms deplete oxygen in the [Chesapeake] Bay."

But the little town of 3,000 didn’t have anywhere near enough money to fund the project. Desperate, Haller applied for stimulus funds. He received more than $5 million.

"It put us over the hump so we could do the project," he said.

But blueprints for the plant was as far as they got. 

“There's a lot of red tape,” Haller explained. “Let's put it that way."

He said the state and the federal government keep tinkering with the plans, delaying the start date. But it’s getting close to shovel ready, he said.

Scott Amey at the Project On Government Oversight said overdue projects need to hurry up and finish. "This is becoming a very long, dragged-out process,” he said. “The longer it goes, the more prone it will be to waste, fraud and abuse."

While there's no evidence of abuse with projects in our area, the federal government has to make sure they get done, Amey said.

Haller said don't worry about Emmitsburg.  He estimates the project will take two years to complete once they get started.

When will that be? 

"We hope to use a shovel late this summer," Haller said.

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