Spending money to make money

On June 30, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke announced the details of an expansive coastal habitat restoration project. Funded by President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the project sets aside a whopping $167 million to be spent on 50 fragile coastal environments throughout the United States.
One part economical, one part environmental, Locke’s logic is that both humans and critters can be relieved by pumping millions of dollars into habitat restoration. To be successful, this project will require a plethora of employees — everyone from day laborers to botanists.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Commerce bureau responsible for managing this project, “coastal areas generate more than 28 million jobs in the United States.” So, when you couple that number with the 5,000 jobs Locke’s plan will reportedly create, we just might have justification to proceed.  
The bottom line here is to boost the long-term economic vitality of coastal communities. 
Approximately 8,900 acres of coastal habitat will be restored when all is said and done (I’ve yet to come across a firm deadline for the completion of all 50 projects). Other noteworthy numbers include the elimination of many obsolete dams to open more than 700 miles of streams to migrating fish, the removal of nearly 850 metric tons of debris, and the mitigation of threats to 11,750 acres of coral reefs. 
Southern California will see very little of this coastal restoration. In fact, there is only one project planned for San Diego County, known as the South San Diego Bay Restoration project. South San Diego Bay Restoration comes at a price tag of $2.9 million, and is one of the cheapest of the 50 projects. 
If you know anything about government spending, more often than not Uncle Sam’s priorities are not aligned. A fine case in point would be the federal government’s reckless spending in response to wildfires. So while this project appears to be a plus for jobs and Mother Nature, I suspect large sums of money will be squandered on unnecessary resources and surpluses. 
Is now the right time to launch massive habitat restoration projects? On one hand, we’ve formed an ideal marriage between industry and the environment. But I know many of you could find ways to spend $167 million, especially those of you who have been laid off, terminated, or have lost a home to foreclosure.
President Obama’s stimulus plan doesn’t sound too far off from FDR’s New Deal. The model is simple enough: if we create jobs, the economy will eventually rebound.  The New Deal was so extensive and vague at times, it even sought to hire painters and musicians to entertain construction workers on job sites. While FDR’s formula certainly put a dent in the Great Depression, it was another tragic event — World War II — that essentially “saved” Americans from their financial misery. Hopefully we won’t find ourselves in a similar situation.
There is no tangible proof that the current administration’s wanton spending has been effective. Stimulus plans take time to absorb, but we’re already seeing bankers and big wigs from Detroit asking for even more money. Honest, hardworking people threatened by a declining job market are not interested in further bailouts or increased taxes to support a growing number of side projects. At least I know I’m not.   
I applaud the concept of creating jobs by way of habitat restoration. It’s truly a win-win for all parties. I only hope we keep our finances in check.
To track the progress of all 50 coastal habitat restoration projects, visit http://www.noaa.gov/recovery/.


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