Doing what government does best – wasting your money

What is it about government that just won’t let a bad idea die? If something doesn’t work after spending piles of taxpayer money on it, the prevailing thought seems to be that we just didn’t spend waste enough money – the only solution must be to spend more. The reigning champ of this dogma is certainly the federal government but, as this story (from the AP) points out, state governments are also legitimate contenders.

In hopes of luring the endangered steelhead trout into the Santa Monica Mountains, California’s transportation agency is planning to spend $935,000 to pave over part of a popular beach with cement and boulders to build a freeway of sorts for fish.The project is the latest, yet far from the most unusual, steelhead recovery attempt by government agencies that have spent millions of dollars on concrete fish ladders, cameras, fishways and other contraptions to allow seagoing trout to spawn in Southern California streams.

The problem, even some conservationists say, is that there is little evidence construction efforts since the 1980s have done anything except absorb taxpayer dollars. The work to save the species has led to about a dozen concrete fishways at a cost of more than $16.7 million.

A $1 million fish ladder — a structure designed to allow fish to migrate upstream around a barrier — may cost $7.5 million in stimulus funds to rebuild. Another fish ladder would require fish to leap 8 feet to reach it. Studies alone for replacing a third ladder have cost an estimated $3 million.

“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,” said conservationist Mark Abramson of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation.

Even the conservationist supporters see that 30 years of throwing good money at bad projects might undermine the public trust. But don’t think for one minute that this lesson will sink in for government bureaucrats. They have lots more taxpayer money, including “stimulus” money, to throw at this.

“Fish ladders don’t work like the engineers have them work on paper,” said Matt Stoecker, a biological consultant who has spent years working on steelhead recovery.

Even when ladders are successful, recovery is a slow process and sometimes upgrades are necessary.

For example, the United Conservation District in Ventura needs to replace a 20-year-old $1.5 million ladder at a cost of up to $25 million, according to general manager Michael Solomon.

The agency has already installed lights, sonar equipment, special trash grates and video equipment. The district is looking at hiring a third full-time staffer to do nothing but deal with the fish.

“We’re a public agency and we need to keep reminding folks people are not going to spend endless money,” said Solomon, adding the district rejected one suggestion to build a rock ramp across a dam for the fish at an estimated cost of $60 million.

Elsewhere in Ventura County, an $8.5 million fish ladder installed at the Robles Diversion Dam in 2006 has since been used by about a dozen adult steelhead.

It’s not their money – it’s your money they’re wasting…


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