Checking Hawaii’s stimulus deals
By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer
Federal stimulus money is paying for ocean-themed nights at schools and to investigate the feasibility of installing a 150-foot tall wind turbine at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
Other stimulus dollars are being used to pay to install keyless locks and repair tennis courts at local military bases and to escort personnel around federal buildings.
Most of Hawai'i's more than $1 billion in federal stimulus money is going toward projects that many would agree help the economy, or to people who have recently lost their jobs. That includes capital improvement projects, tax breaks, unemployment insurance and food stamps.
However, a variety of small projects that aren't getting much publicity may stretch the public's definition of economic stimulus. Those expenses include $936,000 spent installing keyless locks at Wheeler Army Airfield and Schofield Barracks and repairing tennis courts at Hickam Air Force Base.
Nearly $18,000 in stimulus money is being spent to study the feasibility of a wind turbine at Punchbowl cemetery .
You don't need a study to know that a wind turbine isn't feasible for Punchbowl cemetery, said state Sen. Sam Slom, R-8th (Kāhala, Hawai'i Kai).
"My father, being buried up at Punchbowl, would be the first to protest building a wind turbine up there" said Slom, executive director of the business group Smart Business Hawaii. "Studies don't create anything and they don't create any jobs except for those people doing the studies."
PART OF PROCESS
Don Campbell, a Department of Veterans Affairs energy and environmental engineer, said the agency is exploring alternative energy solutions at numerous cemeteries nationwide. The Hawai'i study is part of that process.
Campbell said that, while the Punchbowl study isn't finished yet, it is already clear the agency won't build a wind generator at Punchbowl cemetery, mainly because of aesthetic concerns raised by the State Historic Preservation Division.
Now the agency plans to study whether photovoltaic panels are feasible.
Other small, relatively obscure stimulus contracts include $20,691 spent to escort contractors surveying the Prince Kūhiō Federal Building. That project created one job during the last three months of 2009. A local Government Services Administration official did not return a call seeking comment on the contract.
Separately , $558,271 will be spent by the Army to install keyless locks at Wheeler Army Airfield and another $189,662 is being spent installing similar locks at Schofield Barracks.
Army policy requires the use of such key card access systems on new constructions and major renovations, said Loran Doane, media relations chief for U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii.
"The installation of the keyless locking system is to maintain compliance with this policy," he said in an e-mail.
According to www.Recovery.gov, a federal Web site that tracks stimulus spending, the Schofield lock replacement project is more than half completed and created four jobs. The Wheeler project had not started as of the end of last year.
3,015 JOBS CREATED
Overall, the federal economic stimulus program created 3,015 jobs during the last three months of 2009. That figure includes 2,065 jobs retained in Hawai'i's public education system via one-time grants.
One of the larger projects is a recently awarded $24.5 million contract to repair and expand Pier 29 — the port for nearly all goods imported into Hawai'i.
There's no doubt the stimulus program is helping Hawai'i's economy, said Mark Anderson, the state's stimulus funding coordinator. There's also no sign that stimulus money is being spent wastefully or fraudulently, Anderson said.
"I think the original conception of public works and infrastructure spending was greatly expanded by the time the (stimulus) bill came out," Anderson said. "I think there's much more activities in the stimulus package than folks realize."
In addition to infrastructure spending and job creation, the stimulus program includes money for science, technology, renewable energy as well as entitlement programs, said Jennifer Sabas, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye's chief of staff in Honolulu.
"It was multidimensional," Sabas said. "The broad goal was to stop economic bleeding. That really meant jobs, short-term and long-term, and it also meant supporting those least able to weather this storm."
A wind power generator was probably not the best choice for an alternative energy system for Punchbowl cemetery , Sabas said. However, she said, such studies are in keeping with the energy initiatives included in the stimulus program.
"We are not monitoring all of the initiatives that the different federal agencies are undertaking," Sabas said. "We would just hope that when they do their due diligence they really keep in mind the importance of either creating jobs or services for those in need."
UH SCIENCE GRANTS
Stimulus money coming into Hawai'i also goes toward science projects, including a variety of National Science Foundation grants won by the University of Hawai'i. Those grants include $197,278 to conduct ocean-themed family nights at elementary schools. That grant created a quarter of one job during the fourth quarter, according to Recovery.gov.
Gary Ostrander, UH vice chancellor for research, said the grant will help the university expand public outreach and increase awareness.
"The idea is to have people informed," he said. "You see in the community all the (water) runoff that runs into the ocean and oil from cars and pollution and everything and I think many times people just don't realize how drastic the impact is and how complicated those processes are out in the ocean and how they actually impact the folks on land.
"So that's what this is going to all be about."