09 Jan 2009

Edwardsville, Alabama (Population: 194) Wants $375,000,000 From Stimulus Package

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It sounds like a lot, but, after all, as Edwardsville’s mayor explained, it will affect the entire region! And isn’t saving the planet, starting with Northern Alabama, worth every penny?

US News:

At first glance, the town of Edwardsville, Ala., with a population of 194 people, might raise a few eyebrows with its bid to receive $375 million from the economic stimulus package being assembled by Barack Obama and lawmakers in Congress.

The tiny town, located near the Georgia border and 26 miles from the nearest “big city” of Anniston (population: 24,276), added 33 proposals—about two thirds of them related to “green” energy—to the list of “ready- to- go” projects assembled by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Total sum: $375,076,200.

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Tiny Town Edwardsville Responds to $374M Stimulus Fury
News Type: Event — Sat Jan 10, 2009 3:36 PM EST
us-news, obama, alabama, stimulus, edwardsville, us-conference-of-mayors
Jonathan Galt III

On Saturday, the town of Edwardsville, Alabama tried to calm the media storm set off by an arguably slanted article from US News & World Report. The report stated that Edwardsville was requesting stimulus funds in the amount of $374 million; almost $2 million dollars per town resident. A furious public uproar over the town’s request quickly hit newspapers, blogs, and television newscasts resulting in the town being inundated with hate calls and emails. Edwardsville has since withdrawn its projects form the survey of the US Conference of Mayors.

In an attempt to provide the public with clarity on the requests, E.D. Phillips, the town’s representative to the US Council of Mayors and board member of the local gas district utility, stated “The public perception that Edwardsville was asking for $2 million solely for the town’s residents could not be further from the truth. These projects were developed along with two utilities and another town in a cooperative effort over the past two years to provide economic development and job creation through the development of clean energy and communities benefiting our tri-county region.” Phillips continued, “The article, in our opinion, was skewed to incite public reaction over a currently volatile issue by insinuating $2 million was going to 194 residents of one town.”

The article did state that the projects would benefit an approximate 80,000 residents in a tri-county area. However, the public’s perception did not focus its attention on that point, but rather the $2 million per resident.

Phillips explains, “The projects are primarily for renewable and clean energy generation related to two public utilities to which the Town of Edwardsville is a member.” He goes on, “Funding requests related to public projects, such as those of public municipal utilities, goes through the channels of its municipal members that are technically the owners. As Edwardsville is a member of the utilities, the funding requests were submitted through the town.”

Some of the projects, however, continue to be under heavy scrutiny. The proposed renewable energy museum, scenic rail road and golf cart recharging stations among them.

“The renewable energy museum”, Phillips states, “was never to be a place for people to come see what a solar panel looks like. Two years ago there were discussions we had with the National Renewable Energy Lab about cooperating through a satellite facility in Alabama on the development of cutting-edge technologies that could eventually create jobs. In only one aspect of potential cooperation, the South has an abundance of pine timberlands that could be utilized in research for production of non-food-based ethanol production.”

Phillips says the museum facility is meant to be a working museum where information can be disseminated to cities, counties and residents of the Southeast. People could view, and learn, how to incorporate energy efficient and alternative construction methods such as compressed earth block, structural insulated panels (SIP) and rammed earth in “beautiful, but functional and efficient, designs for multitudes of uses.”

“Low-head hydro-electric facilities would also be a functioning part of the museum. “Many rural areas from Alabama to New York State have an abundance of non-navigable streams and tributaries that can be used for energy production.” He continues, “The working renewable energy museum would show them how.”

And what about those golf cart solar charging stations? Phillips went on to discuss that in various ways, long-term planning must be incorporated into cities and towns so they will not later be faced with congestion and high-cost road construction. “By incorporating golf cart paths into community design, such as the acclaimed Peachtree City in Georgia, planned green community residents can do almost all their local errands without the use of polluting and traffic congestive cars. Having recharging stations is an integral component to success when cities consider these planning options.”

Phillips points out, “Over the past two years while we have been planning these projects, we never had any idea or hope that there would be a stimulus package. The public jumped to the wrong conclusion by thinking we were just a greedy little town trying to jump on the gravy train. While in fact, we only learned about a potential stimulus package only a few weeks ago, just like everyone else. These projects were shovel-ready before any hope of the stimulus ever arrived on the scene.”

Does the area really need projects like these anyway, is often recently questioned. Phillips goes on, “Birmingham and Atlanta are more than 1 ½ hours away from us. Any potential stimulus money in those cities would be a huge benefit to them. However, what will that do for jobs in our tri-county area that includes a population of around 200,000?” Phillips continues, “Our projects have been developed to benefit at least 80,000 in the most rural portions of our three adjacent counties. People in rural areas need jobs without having to be on the road for 3 hours a day to get to them.”

But where does that leave Edwardsville, the public utilities, the proposed projects and potential jobs for this tri-county rural area of Alabama? What about the hate emails and phone calls from across the US streaming curses at the Mayor? “Our former Mayor was receiving them, too. She was so overwhelmed and distraught to the point she was about to break down crying”, Phillips says.

Whether or not this clarification by the town ever makes it to the mainstream media and to the American public-at-large remains the question. Sensational articles, of course, get the most press coverage. As a matter of fact, that is how writers like me can potentially make the most money. The more widely published the articles, along with those having the most comments, brings in the bigger bucks. Whether this was a consideration of the US News & World report article, however, is not known.

What is known is that after the media coverage and hostile remarks from the public in response to the article, that Edwardsville withdrew its projects from the US Conference of Mayors survey. While the removal of these will not show until the newest report is compiled and released just prior to President-elect Obama’s inauguration, they are nonetheless out of the survey.

“We were just overwhelmed by the negativity focused on the town”, says Phillips. He continues, “But for every 9 negatives there was always 1 positive. It was only those positives that made the past couple of days bearable and we want every single one of those individuals to know how truly appreciative we are.”

Edwardsville still believes cooperative efforts between municipal utilities and that their member rural towns is the way to go in order coordinate positive change, create economic development and form the foundation for long-term job creation and growth.

Will the town give up its efforts in cooperating with local utilities and others? Will they now lose any potential stimulus funding to benefit their tri-county area? “We’re hoping that the public will someday understand our cooperative efforts and at least have a better picture of what we’ve been working on for the past two years. The projects were never about a greedy town or its residents wanting a $2 million apiece windfall. But it seems that was the spin of the article and what the public responded to.”

However, someday will be too late for this rural part of Alabama and its residents of the tri-county region who need jobs for both now and the long-term.

Will the real story behind Edwardsville’s joint efforts and related stimulus request make it to America’s readers like the one from US News & World Report? Unfortunately, the answer is probably not. Stories without sensation, without the catchy title and those that do not inspire a heated-response, rarely do.

We are left with the question: What are the lasting results of such an article on the town of Edwardsville and this rarely-considered area of rural Alabama?

Without potential stimulus funds for which other cities across the nation are scrambling, they are sure to continue in being left behind. Sadly, it is this very condition that the town has been working for the past two years to change.

A three-hour round-trip commute to work in those metropolitan areas sure to receive their share of a possible trillion dollars in stimulus funds simply does not allow rural Americans to take part. With 97% of America designated as rural, can a stimulus be effective if targeted mainly to the big cities?

While Edwardsville has suffered the brunt of the attack on what is representative of small-town rural America, what will end up happening, not only to this one town, but the rest of the small towns dotted on our American landscape? Will they continue to be forgotten?

That is the untold story, and one that may be truly deserving of the public input and comment. Do Americans only respond with outrage to sensational-styled articles or do they dig a little deeper to find the truth and then rise up with their voices to correct an unjust rush to judgment?

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