California Wine Train gets $54 million in stimulus $$$
January 31, 2010
Critics are pointing to the $54 million in federal stimulus money for the California Wine Train as “silly and short sighted,” and a waste of money. [California Watch]
Sixteen times a week, the Wine Train transports tourists from Napa to St. Helena aboard restored dining cars. A champagne dinner costs $129. About 125,000 people ride the train each year.
At issue is a complicated story about flood control in Napa. Voters agreed to tax themselves for 20 years to cover the cost of a water diversion project.
However, the cost went up dramatically when the owner of the Wine Train, Vincent DeDemenico, the founder of Rice-A-Roni got involved. DeDemenico wanted the project to include modernization of a Napa bridge used by the Wine Train and extra protection for the railroad station.
He threatened to campaign against the tax measure if his plan was not approved.
Further complicating the story is the awarding of $54 million in federal stimulus money in a non-competitive bid to a construction company–based in Alaska–to make the Wine Train improvements. Anchorage-based Suulutaag, Inc, founded by Alaskan natives, apparently enjoys special access to federal contracts, and that’s how they received the federal stimulus money.
According to a report issued by Suulutaag last year, the number of jobs they’ve created on the project so far: 12.
Republican senators John McCain and Tom Coburn list the Wine Train on their list of the top 100 examples of waste of federal stimulus funds.