June 16, 2009 -- Why did the turtle cross the road? Because there was no tunnel for him to go through, but thanks to $3.4 million in stimulus money for an "eco tunnel" in Florida, that's about to change.
The 13-foot tunnel under U.S. Rte. 27 in Lake Jackson, Fla., -- you might call it the Turtle Tunnel because it primarily designed for turtles that are frequently killed as they cross the highway -- is one of 100 stimulus projects targeted in a report released Tuesday by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a leading critic of the $787 billion stimulus plan passed by Congress in February. Coburn's report, entitled "The Stimulus: A Second Opinion," lists 100 stimulus projects the senator considers dubious.
But the stimulus watchdogs in Vice President Biden's office are pushing back hard, arguing that Coburn's report is poorly researched, littered with errors and includes several projects that will never be funded with stimulus dollars.
"We have approved more than 20,000 Recovery Act projects to get America's economy moving again," said Ed Deseve, director of the White House's Recovery Office, which is tracking stimulus spending. "The program is, overall, a great success. 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."
The Turtle Tunnel project, however, seems to be moving forward. The Florida Department of Transportation has been awarded $3.4 million to build the tunnel.
Local officials defend it as necessary because so-many wild animals -- including alligators, otters, lizards and turtles -- have been killed crossing U.S. Rte. 27 in Jackson Lake that the road killing has become hazardous to both animals and drivers.
Coburn Report Lists Skylights, Marijuana Analysis
Here are some other projects highlighted by Coburn that, as of now, appear to be going forward:
$2.2 million to put skylights in a state-run liquor warehouse in Montana. It's called "daylighting." Local officials say it's a green energy project that will eventually save money by cutting down electricity costs at the warehouse.
The towns of Union, N.Y., and Altoona, Pa., are getting hundreds of thousands of dollars for homeless programs, though both towns say they don't have any homeless people.
The town of Washington, N.C., is using $40,000 in stimulus money to pay for a "project-funding manager" whose primary job will be to drum up more stimulus money.
Washington State University is getting $148,438 to analyze "the use of marijuana in conjunction with medications like morphine."
Vice President Biden's office says the administration has acted aggressively to stop wasteful projects before they get started. For example, Coburn's report also highlights a $1.15 million project to build a guard rail around remote Optima Lake in Oklahoma, which barely has any water. The White House, however, says that project was stopped last week, shortly after Coburn raised questions about it with the Army Corps of Engineers.
It is unclear whether any of the other projects highlighted by Coburn will be now be defended, but Coburn's report also included some projects that were never funded in the first place, including money to repair a steam room at a fitness center on Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas. In fact, the administration says this proposal was never part of the stimulus and had been rejected by the Department of Defense.