PORK FOR PELLSTON OR SOVEREIGN DEED?
March 17, 2008
While reviewing recent “pork” dished out by three of Michigan’s federal bacon slingers, yours truly took time to research some places that Rep. Bart Stupak, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Sen. Carl Levin gifted with taxpayer money.
To better understand abusive “pork barrel” spending, here’s some of what Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) had to say: “As they left town for Christmas, Congress passed an unprecedented end-of-the-year appropriations bill with billions in wasteful spending designed principally to benefit incumbent Members of Congress…
“The 3,417 page bill (34 pounds) was dropped barely 20 hours before final consideration by the House. It included 9,170 Member-directed spending projects. Over 300 of these had never been made public, seen by rank-and-file Members, or passed by either House.
“Combined with the 2,161 passed earlier, Members gave themselves a total of 11,331 self-serving projects, costing Americans over $20 billion this year…
“This legislation continues an embarrassing trend in government pork-barrel spending, funneling untold billions into pet projects designed to re-elect incumbents…
“Because Congress chooses to spend far more than is collected in current taxes, the government must borrow money to fund our largess.
“And borrow we have, to the point where our current national debt is a whopping $9.2 trillion dollars - or more accurately $9,193,315,468,899.43 as of December 21, 2007. That translates to $30,323.94 of debt for every man, woman, and child in America.
“Who, exactly, is lending us all this money? Well, Japan has lent us $586 billion. We owe communist China $400 billion. Our "friends" in Saudi Arabia and other oil producing nations have lent us $123 billion. And here is the really bad news: they expect us to pay them back - with interest. In fact, we paid $430 billion in interest on our debt last year alone.”
While some Michigan earmarks were directed to worthy projects, many others are questionable when America’s breadwinners are having trouble bringing home the bacon. For instance, the joint Stabenow-Levin press release regarding a very lengthy list of pork indicates that $1,786,000 was gifted to complete a permanent exhibit for Alpena’s new visitor center, another $1,033,000 was earmarked for eggshell pasteurization, and several more million was designated for various historical renovation projects.
Among pork earmarks announced by Rep. Stupak was his $2 million gift to the non-profit Nature Conservancy that recently reported $4 billion in assets. Stupak’s taxpayer-funded present is another installment payment on his $10 million federal commitment to Gov. Granholm’s “U.P. Big Deal,” which fattened the Conservancy’s “Forest Bank,” but did nothing to bolster the Upper Peninsula’s economy.
However, Stupak’s $600,000 earmark for northern Lower Michigan’s Pellston Regional Airport, the nation’s “Icebox,” was the most interesting to research.
In recent years various federal and state legislators have directed millions of tax dollars to the once tiny airport just outside of Pellston, population 771, as of the 2000 census. Why?
According to Stupak, “Rural airports like Pellston are essential to the necessary business travel that occurs in and around smaller communities. Having an exceptional facility and the proper equipment to keep traveler’s safe, while also working to improve services, will only make Pellston that much more critical to surrounding communities.”
The same can be said about Escanaba’s Delta County airport, which, unlike Pellston, has no nearby airports. However, millions of dollars aren’t funneled to that city and it’s most likely because Pellston’s nearby areas, such as Harbor Springs, Petosky, and Mackinaw Island, cater to upper crust millionaires, while Escanaba and its nearby communities are primarily home to low to mid-income working class people.
This is also true of the Copper Country’s Houghton County airport, which serves a four-county area and two universities in the twin-cities of Houghton and Hancock.
The terminal buildings at both facilities have the ambiance of a hospital emergency room and their vending machine menu leaves much to be desired.
After just a brief online search, it was learned that at least $11 million in Federal appropriations and grants, along with several state grants were given to the Pellston Airport over recent years. There were other appropriations, too, but no dollar figure was given.
Part of the money was used to remodel the terminal, which by August 2003 had been tripled in size to 34,548 sq. ft. at a total cost of about $8.4 million. This included at least $600,000 worth of items airlines often have to pay for. Emmet County provided $370,000 of the renovation cost, but the rest came from federal and state funds, aviation fuel sales, and user-fee based sources.
Although passenger traffic was down by at least 6,000 in 2007, another multi-million dollar expansion, paid for in part through Stupak’s latest earmark, is in the works.
Government extorted taxpayer money was granted to buy land adjacent to the airport for a new access road to the white cedar lined, two-story terminal that now houses three cozy stone fireplaces, rustic Old Hickory furniture, including rocking chairs, terrazzo flooring, red plaid carpeting, mood lighting, a log staircase, wrap-around phone booths made of huge logs, free Wireless Internet service kiosks, a full-service restaurant and bar, gift shop, conference room, and donated hunting trophy mounts.
Taxpayer money has also been used to improve the runway and expand the parking lot, as well as for a back-up generator, snow removal equipment, and a braking action device so pilots know what to expect when their wheels touch the ground, etc., ad nauseum.
In fact, Pellston’s airport has been improved so much that on April 7, 2007, State Sen. Jason Allen (R-Grand Traverse, Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, Cheboygan, Presque Isle, Chippewa, and Mackinac counties) proposed special legislation (SB-400) to give a $5 million property tax break to a specific company that wants to set up business on airport property. The tax break was to be added to a state incentive package already estimated at about $6 million.
The MI legislature, which couldn’t resolve the state’s recent budget crisis in a timely manner or without wrangling, quickly combined Allen’s bill with a “companion bill” (HB-4629) introduced on April 24th by Rep. Gary McDowell (D-Emmet, Chippewa & Mackinac counties), and passed the legislation in record time. It was on the Governor’s desk by May 18th and approved by her May 29th.
Prematurely jumping the gun, Allen and McDowell issued a joint May 11th press release announcing that Chicago-based Sovereign Deed, a private security company, was interested in setting up its national headquarters at the Pellston airport, and that the two men had arranged for tax-abatement legislation to chum the company to Emmet County.
One might even think it’s a set-up deal because although no proof can now be found anywhere online, it’s claimed that Pellston, along with a Wisconsin and Illinois site, was one of three finalists for Sovereign Deed’s headquarters, which will serve at least 100 private security centers the company wants to establish throughout America.
According to its Website, Sovereign Deed “empowers its members to succeed when the normal infrastructure breaks down and when local emergency response services are overwhelmed… Our services are delivered by duty-bound specialists committed to helping our members stay safe before, during and after a catastrophe.”
Those who want to become an empowered member of the company’s client list will need to pay an initial $50,000 membership fee and an annual fee of at least $15,000. In other words, Sovereign Deed caters to the wealthy for whom money is no object; it doesn’t cater to financially challenged folks who’ve provided federal and state tax dollars and grant money to make the nation’s “Ice Box” an aesthetically pleasing, state of the art facility in rural Northern Michigan.
According to Anne Stanton’s Northern Express newsweekly article, ‘Is Survival Only for the Rich?’, “The aim of Sovereign Deed is to give its wealthy clients an edge during a catastrophe. The base package includes one-on-one training, early notice of a catastrophe to allow escape before roads are clogged, emergency updates, food supplies, a survival kit and satellite phone, if necessary. At the highest level of service, a member would be personally rescued and evacuated.”
Preliminary negotiations were conducted in secret behind Emmet County residents’ backs, but it’s now known that Sovereign Deed wants to use a publicly owned facility for its private national emergency response headquarters. It’s looking for a 99-year lease and permission to build an airport hanger and other infrastructure on about 700 acres of airport land.
If it’s any indication of the hanky-panky going on in Pellston to hoodwink the sheeple, Emmet County’s Board of Commissioners modified Sovereign Deed’s development plan by renaming the training center as a private school and the crisis action center as an office building.
Sovereign Deed is a spin-off of Triple Canopy, both founded by Barrett Moore whose family has owned property on Burt Lake near Pellston and Petoskey since the 1800s.
Triple Canopy is one of a few companies like Blackwater that received government contracts to provide security for American workers in Iraq. It’s steeped in controversy and some of its employees stand accused of shooting at innocent Iraqis; at least 36 shooting incidents have been attributed to Triple Canopy between January 2005 and May 2007.
On the topic of private security contractors in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Karl Horst, deputy commander of the 3rd Infantry Division had this to say in July 2005: “These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There’s no authority over them, so you can’t come down on them hard when they escalate force…They shoot people, and someone has to deal with the aftermath.”
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Though it’s not quite a done deal yet between the Pellston airport officials and Sovereign Deed, it likely will be, but the company is waiting to find out how much money it can milk from state and federal government coffers for necessary up-front expenses before committing to the deal.
Perhaps Stupak, Stabenow, Levin, Allen and McDowell, et al, can give Sovereign Deed some help in that department since they’re so good at giving away taxpayers’ money.
survival only for the rich?
2, Ignoring Public Protests, County Officials OK Plan Without Hearing from Sovereign Deed
3, Sovereign Deed Founder Steeped in Legal Controversy
4, County’s Secrecy Agreement with Firm Draws Fire
5, Sovereign Deed CEO lied about military service, records show
© 2008 Carole "C.J." Williams - All Rights Reserved