WRAL Investigates

Some question stimulus projects' impact on N.C.

Posted September 30, 2009 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated October 1, 2009 7:15 a.m. EDT

WRAL Investigates

— The federal stimulus package promises more than $6 billion in direct aid to North Carolina. Much of the money is spent on things such as transportation, clean water and education.

Some projects are creating construction jobs and fuel for the economy, such as a new National Guard Headquarters in Raleigh and numerous road projects.

However, a WRAL investigation into a few stimulus projects has raised questions about their impact on the state.

See a county-by-county breakdown of where stimulus money is being spent.

The Roanoke River Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1940 and is one of the last lighthouses still standing on an inland waterway. The North Carolina Department of Transportation awarded $1.2 million to renovate the lighthouse, which now sits on Edenton’s historic waterfront.

Supporters say it will boost tourism for the town.

“Heritage tourism brings new people, and with those new people, they spend money in the community. So I think it fits the stimulus perfectly,” said Edenton Town Manager Anne Marie Knighton.

Part of the challenge for Chowan County was finding a DOT project that could be finished in three years, which is a rule of the stimulus package. The money is also divided into categories. Chowan County received money for schools, but could use more, school officials said.

The lighthouse project comes from the DOT funds. It is part of the state's history of transportation, and it was a project that could turn quickly.

“This is a national program that we’re trying to fit in Chowan County,” said Dempsey Benton, who serves as North Carolina’s stimulus czar with the Office of Economic Recovery & Investment.

Benton said he also wanted to make sure every county received its fair share, especially places like Chowan where unemployment is high.

“If we don’t use the funds and say ‘No, thank you,’ then the next September, the funds will be reallocated to another state,” he said.

Another $3 million will go to painting the Umstead Bridge over the Croatan Sound in Dare County. It was essentially replaced seven years ago with the $100 million Virginia Dare Bridge because the older bridge couldn't handle heavy traffic.

The Umstead Bridge now mostly handles local traffic.

Investment adviser Ken Bell said he thinks Congress could've better directed the rules and the money.

“I think it makes more sense to have communities have more control and have them spend it in a manner that’s going to benefit them the most,” said Bell, president of Aspera Financial.

Just like the National Guard headquarters, both projects met a government mandate that projects be shovel ready. It's up to taxpayers to decide if the projects are necessary.

Thursday on the WRAL News at 6:

WRAL Investigates reporter Kelcey Carlson follows the money trail on several smaller projects and sits down with the state's stimulus czar for his take.

If you have any tips on waste or fraud, contact the WRAL Investigates team. Call 1-877 WRAL TIP or e-mail investigates@wral.com.