October 28, 2005

More on the Injustice of Pork

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the North Kingstown Standard Times, the Yorker Mill Dam in Exeter is another of Rhode Island’s dams in need of immediate attention…

If the Yorker Mill pond dam on Dorset Mill Road were to rupture, it would result in the loss of life and substantial property damage, according to state officials….

[David Chopy, supervising engineer in the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management] explained that there were three major components of a dam: the embankment that holds the water back (Yorker Mill's dam is earthen), the spillway which usually is a concrete opening that allows the water to pass through the dam without overtopping and a structure, usually a gate, that allows the water to drain out of the pond.

A gate is needed to be able to lower the pond so it can be inspected and if a storm were coming there would be additional capacity.

The Yorker Mill dam does not have a gate mechanism and its spillway is leaking. "The leaking spillway is why we consider it unsafe," said Chopy.

Chief Scott Kettelle, of Exeter Volunteer Fire Company No. One, said that the town was notified of the dam's condition six month ago, but on the morning of Oct. 15, the DEM realized work hadn't been done on it….

The information in the Standard Times story helps fill out another dimension of Rhode Island’s dam problem. Many of Rhode Island’s dams are privately owned. And in the case of the Yorker Mill Dam, the homeowner association responsible for funding dam maintenance hasn’t stepped up as fully as it should…
Bill Bivona, owns the dam and Dorset Mill, with his wife, Alice, as well as Tom Daven and Mary Kesler.

Bivona said that the engineering was complete and a permit was in place to begin reconstruction of the dam.

"That work should commence sometime in the next two or three weeks," he said. "Getting everything in order is a time-consuming process. The thing to note is we have been having a lot of difficulty getting an agreement from all the neighbors to fulfill their obligations to support this financially."

According to Bivona, it was in the deeds of all people with pond frontage to contribute equally for the repair and maintenance of the dam.

There were roughly 15 parties involved but only about a third of the people have made a contribution.

Bivona estimated the cost of the project at tens of thousands of dollars.

However, the people living around the Yorker Mill Dam are light-years ahead of the recipients of the $223,000,000 bridge to nowhere in terms of civic consciousness. The bridge to nowhere is being built in Alaska -- a state that levies neither a sales tax nor an income tax on its residents.

When our Congressional repsresentatives vote for Alaskan pork, they are voting for projects that the Alaskan government is unwilling to pay for with local money, while leaving people like their constituents in Exeter -- who pay their fair share to the state of Rhode Island in the form of income and sales taxes -- on their own for dam repairs.

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"When our Congressional representatives vote for Alaskan pork, they are voting for projects that the Alaskan government is UNWILLING to pay for with local money, while leaving people like their constituents in Exeter..."

I've just quoted the last portion of Andrew's piece and emphasized one word: UNWILLING. Alaska is not UNABLE to raise the needed revenue; they are unwilling. Why, might you ask? Because they know that the rest of us will spring for it, because the appropriations process favors their elected officials at present, and they are smart enough to milk the rest of us for all its worth.

One additional point that wasn't mentioned in this post, is that not only do Alaska residents not pay any state taxes - unlike all other states - they actually RECEIVE money from the state each year, from royalties paid from their state's oil production (I think it's called the Alaska Permanent Fund, but don't quote me there).

While the prospect of living in "a state that levies neither a sales tax nor an income tax on its residents" sounds wonderfully utopian [on the surface] to me, if they are spending money at a rate highly disproportionate to their state's income, and just passing the check over to the rest of us to pay, we have a big problem.

When people talk about "pork," I'm going to explain what at least I mean by it. "Pork" is a federal expenditure that COULD HAVE BEEN funded at the state level, which some politicians, almost always for their own political gain, CHOOSE to "bill" to the rest of us, in order to benefit a relatively small segment of the community. We are not talking about national defense, or maintenance of an interstate highway, natural disasters, or any other Constitutionally-delegated federal responsibility.

In isolation, perhaps a bridge, a bus stop, an indoor rainforest, painting a 747 to resemble a salmon, studying bovine flatulance, or an intermodal transportation whatchamicallit in Warwick, when just considered in isolation, doesn't sound like anything to pick a fight over. However, when all those "federal earmarks" are added together, and "the bill" for them is passed on to the Federal Government - paid for either by current tax revenue or by borrowing against the future - it is exactly that type of behavior which is putting our nation on an unsustainable economic course.

Posted by: Will at October 29, 2005 2:23 AM