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Bennett gets $50M Utah water project in stimulus bill

Published February 20, 2009 5:59 pm

Earmark? » But senator voted against overall package.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A major Utah water project received a $50 million infusion in the stimulus package with the help of Sen. Bob Bennett -- even though he voted against the overall bill.

Some are pointing to the funding as evidence the legislation contained a bunch of pet projects despite President Barack Obama's repeated statements to the contrary.

"It is a plan that's been put together without earmarks or the usual pork-barrel spending," Obama said moments before signing the $878 billion bill this week.

The stimulus plan will send much of that money to states in an attempt to save jobs by plugging budget holes and kick-starting construction projects during this prolonged recession.

Most of the funds will go to existing programs with the amounts determined by standard government formulas. But a few items, like the money for the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, were singled out in the language of the 1,000-page bill. Republicans repeatedly criticized the bill for containing "pork projects."

Reporters with ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism outfit, recently scoured the stimulus for projects that have all the characteristics of earmarks. Their list includes the Central Utah Water funding.

ProPublica used a definition taken from an enacted 2007 reform bill, which essentially said an earmark is any language in a spending bill targeted at a specific program, state or locality often at a member's request. Earmarks have come under increased scrutiny because they bypass the normal budget process and, at times, have benefited those with ties to the politicians who request them.

In this case, Bennett, a Republican member of the appropriations committee and a longtime proponent of the quasi-federal Central Utah Water, sought the funding.

"Without his help, it wouldn't be there," said Central Utah Water spokeswoman Chris Finlinson, who also mentioned the support of Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.

Bennett spokeswoman Tara Hendershott said Central Utah Water's funding is an example of how the senator worked to get money for "Utah projects that would create jobs" in the stimulus bill.

But it is a measure he ultimately voted against, citing the lack of money to combat the housing crisis and the fact that the bill's tax cuts were only temporary.

Central Utah Water's $50 million will be split between a pipeline project and environmental-mitigation efforts.

About $41 million will help build about four miles of pipeline for the Utah Lake project, which will funnel water through Spanish Fork Canyon to Utah and Salt Lake counties.

That project, already under way, is estimated to cost more than $400 million and crews are not scheduled to finish construction until 2021. But Finlinson said this money would help speed up the timetable. Central Utah Water, a federally created entity, will seek more money from Congress in the upcoming budget process.

She also said the project is a good use of stimulus dollars because "we will be able to put the funds to very quick use."

The remaining $9 million goes to the Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission, which oversees the environmental cleanup involving the Central Utah Water project.

That money will help build a fish hatchery for the Ute Indian Tribe and continue the process of mitigating the loss of some nearby wetlands. The money will help build fences, and boardwalks and fight mosquitoes and weeds.

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