Time and time again, government agencies identify and follow through on projects to improve the quality of life. There is a serious flaw in a process that commonly results in costly corrections. Here are a few Florida examples:
Kissimmee River, Central Florida –
After an active hurricane season in 1947 caused extensive flooding in Central and South Florida, state government requested federal assistance in controlling future floods. In 1954, “canalization” of the Kissimmee River was authorized by the US Congress. It took 8 years to dredge the 56 mile arrow straight canal that replaced the previous 106 mile long meandering river. While 40,000 acres of floodplain dried out, the quality of waterfowl habitat was reduced by 90%. Heron, egret, and wood stork populations were reduced by 66.67%. Nitrogen content in Lake Okeechobee increased by 25%, and phosphorus content increased by 20%. After coming close to turning the once pristine and wildlife filled Lake Okeechobee into a dead sea and poisoning the Everglades, Congress approved restoration of the Kissimmee’s original flow pattern in 1992. The actual process began in 1997 and is expected to be completed in 2014. A total of 43 miles will be restored at an estimated cost of $400,000,000. One can only hope that wildlife will return to the former habitats. http://www.wftv.com/news/22424629/detail.html
Control Tower, Palm Beach International Airport, West Palm Beach, FL –
The FAA signed a contract in 22008 with PCL Construction for the erection of a 231 foot tall control tower at Palm Beach International Airport. The $19,200,000 project was completed in October 2010. Eleven months later, no equipment has been installed, and the tower stands vacant. At issue, a low altitude radar system called TRACON. Construction plans did not allow space for TRACON because the FAA planned to consolidate local TRACON services with similar services at Miami International Airport. Traffic controllers and federal lawmakers have been opposed to this measure that would shift services to Jacksonville in the event of a failure in Miami. The push for a new tower was fueled by a runway expansion plan justified by projected growth. That expansion has been put on indefinite hold. The $19.2 million tower stands empty. http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/pbias-19-2pbias-19-2-million-air-traffic-control-tower-1812043.html?cxtype=rss_news
Miccosukee Burial Ground Restoration, Somewhere in the Everglades, FL – Everglades restoration includes creation of a vast man-made wetland south of Lake Okeechobee. In May of 2008, archaeologists began the process of relocating a small, sacred Miccosukee burial ground that stood in the way. The tribes were assured by authorities that the utmost care and dignity would be applied to the process. Weekly meetings of the archaeologists, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the state Historic Preservation Office kept everyone up-to-date on the progress – everyone except the tribes.
By January 2010, the archaeologists were so concerned about the ever-increasing size of the burial ground that they sought a decision to either preserve the existing site or continue with the removal. The removal continued. By then, the size of the original burial ground was so large that it would have been eligible for inclusion in the National Registry of Historic Places.
When finally informed in May 2010 that the site contained the remains of 56 men, women, and children, tribal representatives demanded full and complete restoration of the burial ground with precise placement of all remains and protection from any potential damage from water encroachment.
The South Florida Water Management District has agreed to meet tribal demands and expects to complete the restoration by June 2013. There are no cost projections for the three years of work that has been completed nor for the additional two years of work that will be required to undo the work that has been done. http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/tribes-state-near-pact-on-re-installation-protection-1824113.html?showComments=true
Cross Florida Barge Canal, Palatka-Dunnellon, FL
In 1963 with support from President John F. Kennedy, who allocated one million dollars to the project, the long-standing plan for a canal across the State of Florida was once again made active. The next year, Lyndon Johnson set off the explosives that started construction. It was hoped that the canal would provide a quicker and safer route across Florida by 1971.
Opponents subsequently campaigned against the canal on environmental grounds, and the project stopped in January 1971. By then, more than $74 million had been spent on land acquisition and construction. The canal was 1/3 complete. It was officially cancelled in 1991. The right-of-way was turned over to the state and became the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, named in honor of the woman who led opposition to the canal.
There is a name for this type of governmental malfeasance. It is a boondoggle and is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a wasteful or impractical project or activity often involving graft.” First used in 1929 to identify a braided cord worn by Boy Scouts, this usage of the term dates back to 1957.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
There may be a reason why similar boondoggles occur so frequently. Unlike privately funded projects, government projects receive significant public exposure. They are vulnerable to criticism from not only bona fide authorities with knowledge and experience that enables them to accurately evaluate potential, but also from brainless Monday morning quarterbacks who have an agenda that is often not in alignment with the scope of the project.
No one voluntarily subjects oneself to inane, moronic criticism from loud and frequently obnoxious complainers. If the best way to avoid such conflict is to be secretive in deliberations and to act quickly and decisively in execution, then why not? So what if the result is costly corrections and overruns? The government has deep pockets. No one knows the names of the people who approved any of the above-referenced projects.
When the economy is strong, no one questions these decisions because money appears to be readily available to cover costs. When frugality becomes the byword, then and only then is a cost/benefit analysis done. The South Florida Water Management District recently eliminated hundreds of high-paying jobs in order to meet a tightly restricted budget mandate. How many jobs could have been saved if the burial ground fiasco had not occurred?
We (you and I, the public, voters, citizens, families, parents, homeowners, or whatever name that applies) must demand a detailed, long-term cost/benefit analysis for every government project. The final analysis must be made public – open to public scrutiny and comment. Failure to properly address issues raised through this process must be punishable. Two minds are better than one.