Wolfville, Alabama

There is a town in Alabama that has some pretty ambitious ideas for a small town and its eye on all that public money in Obama’s stimulus package. For some reason, like local talk of our getting infrastructure grants from the Feds,  it reminds us of Wolfville.

The tiny town, located near the Georgia border and 26 miles from the nearest “big city” of Anniston (population: 24,276), added 33 proposals—about two thirds of them related to “green” energy—to the list of “ready- to- go” projects assembled by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Total sum: $375,076,200.

That comes out to nearly $2 million per Edwardsville resident, although E. D. Phillips, the town’s representative to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, says the projects would affect a wider region that comprises about 80,000 people. That number includes residents of nearby rural areas that aren’t already incorporated into towns, along with the residents of Talladega Springs (population: 124), which partnered with Edwardsville and local municipal utilities on the projects.

That makes it only about $5,000 per person- man, woman and child. Pretty reasonable huh?

There’s certainly no denying that Edwardsville has big ambitions. Through the various proposals, which include a renewable energy museum, scenic railroad, and vineyards, these small Alabama communities envision themselves becoming a cutting-edge demonstration project for energy sustainability and a hub for tourism.

“I know we look like some little Podunk town, and by the census, we are,” Phillips says. “But we really think we’ve done some amazingly progressive things in the past two years.”

Progressive. We wonder whether they have declared themselves a nuclear weapons free zone. Are they a Fair Trade Town? Do they have a by-law against smoking in cars with kids and are they against uranium mining?

The town’s proposals began to develop more than two years ago, when Phillips and another town official became intrigued by the argument that renewable energy could create a rural renaissance. …

Along with the more traditional proposals to replace streetlights with solar-powered lights (cost: $3,479,200), to install solar panels on the town hall (cost: $77,000), and to build solar-powered recharging stations for electric golf carts and vehicles (cost: $620,000), Edwardsville and Talladega Springs have assembled a set of even more far-reaching projects.

An outlay of $50.4 million, for example, would go toward installing water pipelines beneath roads to soak up the sun’s rays, transferring heat. …

With big dreams, however, come big price tags.

“Do you know how hard it is to fund some of these projects when your tax base is so low?” Phillips says. “So we just breathed this sigh of relief when we found out about the stimulus package . . . especially when it had a focus on renewable energy.”

Big dreams,  grants, sustainability. A powerful mixture. But some people aren’t so enthused. They see pork. And a waste of taxpayer’s money.

“This really exemplifies the problem. Why are we buying light bulbs for a local community?” asks Tom Schatz, president of the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste. “If a municipality wants to save money, [it can] go out and buy the light bulbs. There is no reason the federal government should buy them.”

One of Edwardsville’s biggest proposed expenditures is for a “renewable energy museum and information dissemination center.” Phillips envisions exhibits, audio tours, seminars, a research center, and a satellite lab run by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

To fund the museum, Edwardsville is requesting $32.1 million. That makes the facility the fourth most expensive museum proposed on the U.S. Conference of Mayors list—following facilities planned by Miami, Las Vegas, and Scottsdale, Ariz. (Some of those facilities have drawn their own controversy: Las Vegas’s proposal for a $55 million “mob museum,” for example, was used by Sen. Mitch McConnell this week as a prime example of pork spending.)

Whole hog, we’d say.

It’s also asking for $9 million to go toward establishing an eventual 640 acres of vineyards, 160 acres of which would be launched first. Each of the four vineyards would be designed around the theme of a different European country and, in a bid for weddings, dotted with gazebos and chapels.

Except that area isn’t suited to vineyards which is why there aren’t any there already and then what about the other states where they already grow grapes? But they’ll try it on. If they can get the rest of the country to pay for it, why not, right?

It’s not yet known whether Edwardsville will get any money from the stimulus package at all. There’s no guarantee as to how many projects, if any, on the mayors list will get federal funding. And although $375 million may seem like a lot of money, it’s also a fraction of the $96,638,419,313 requested by all the towns on the list.

But for Edwardsville, that money—whether seen as “pork” or not—would make a fantasy come true.

“We would love to be the poster child for rural America, for attempting to change through concern for the environment and clean energy,” says Phillips. “We think if anyone can do it, we can.”

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