According to the Associated Press, the California Department of Transportation is planning to pave over part of a popular beach in the Santa Monica Mountains to build a “freeway” for fish. The project is the latest attempt by government agencies to lure steelhead trout into the area–adding a whopping $935,000 to the $16.7 million in taxpayer funds already spent on endangered trout recovery efforts.
Former projects include a $1 million concrete fish “ladder” designed to allow fish to migrate upstream. Unfortunately, the $1 million project may cost an additional $7.5 million in stimulus funds to rebuild. After years of trying to rescue steelhead trout, some conservationists believe construction efforts like fish ladders have done only one thing– absorb millions of taxpayer dollars.
Conservationist Mark Abramson of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation told the AP, “If we do a series of crappy projects like fish ladders to nowhere … then the public trust for giving money for these types of projects is going to go away.”
California’s Debt Crisis
Considering California’s debt crisis, staggering unemployment rate and unusual share of natural and man-made disasters, it seems interesting that any government agency would propose what appears to be frivolous spending in a time of statewide economic meltdown.
In a special Forbes report on the global debt crisis, California ranked as the 47th worst U.S. state with a 13.2% unemployment rate and 1.6% job growth rate. Also, California’s state tax revenue has dropped 12.8% over the last 12 months.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports show over 1,800 disaster declarations were filed for the state of California in 2010. Severe winter storms, floods, landslides, mudslides and wildfires have taken a heavy toll on the economically strapped state.
Fiscal Responsibility and Upcoming Elections
While saving endangered trout may be a good thing under normal circumstances, spending millions of dollars for concrete fish “highways” during an economic crisis appears irresponsible and reckless. This project is just one example of the types of initiatives that critics use to paint California as a state full of “tree-huggers” who care more about the welfare of animals and plants than people.
Recent polls show California Senator Barbara Boxer receiving only 43% support against any of her top three Republican opponents–dropping from 45% in February. Any incumbent who earns less than 50% of the vote is considered vulnerable at this stage of the election cycle, especially considering the anti-incumbent mood sweeping the nation.
California elected officials and political party leaders would do well to reconsider the multi-million dollar “fish ladder to nowhere” and other non-essential, controversial spending. Otherwise, November elections may cause the fine voters of California to decide that red is not such a bad color after all.
Calif.’s Costly Trout Recovery Effort Criticized, Associated Press
Global Debt Crisis, Forbes
California Disaster History, FEMA
Election 2010: California Senate, Rasmussen Reports