The Investigators: Money trail

By Andrew Douglas - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Federal money meant to help create jobs and stimulate the economy is being spent in surprising ways in the Mid-South.

The Recovery Act of 2009 pumped $787 billion into the U.S. economy for jobs and economic growth.

The money was seen locally, with nearly $1.5 billion awarded to Arkansas, $2 billion to Mississippi, and $5.8 billion to Tennessee.

One of the projects funded by the act helps make sure the Mississippi River is cleared for commerce.

"What we have a mandate to do is maintain a navigation channel on the Mississippi River," said Col. Thomas Smith of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Smith said Recovery Act money would be spent on the construction of boat ramps in Memphis, Lauderdale, and Lake Counties, stone dike construction between Memphis and Vicksburg, and resurfacing 36 miles of levees in Elaine, Arkansas.

"Our 100 million dollars is really about a maintenance backlog," Smith said.

Money for the Mississippi River is one thing, but some of the other projects are a little harder to understand.

Take, for example, a lighting study at the federal building in downtown Memphis.  $100,000 of taxpayer money has been awarded, not to install lights, but to look at, "several lighting OPTIONS for the Davis Horton Federal Building to improve energy efficiency and the workspace environment."

Memphians we spoke to weren't sure about the project.

"That's just a waste of money there," taxpayer Gregory Hughes said.

"There's a lot of people that need help instead of them wasting money on lights and things," taxpayer Morgan Franklin said.

In another project, $266,000 was designated to scan aerial pictures to, "preserve historical photography and make it more available to the public."

"I knew we were supposed to get some money, but I didn't know it was going to spent on that kind of stuff," taxpayer Timothy Minnick said.

And then there's the study about voles, small rodents similar to mice.  Thousands of dollars have been designated for a project at the University of Memphis to study the sexual behavior of voles when they are depraved of food.

The point in awarding this money is to create jobs. But in many cases, the number of jobs created by a project is not listed within its proposal.  In the study on voles, money was designated to support two undergraduate students and the research expenses of a high school student.

Tune in for part 2 of this story Wednesday night during Action News 5 at 10pm.

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