Interior Secretary Pitches Stimulus in Pr. George's

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Obama administration reached for the symbolism of the Depression-era public works projects yesterday, sending Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to tour a decaying 1939 federal research facility in Prince George's County that would receive $15 million under the current stimulus proposal.

Standing by a laboratory shut down four years ago because of structural deterioration, Salazar touted the plan to replace it as evidence that the stimulus proposal would have the same enduring effect of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's effort to revive the economy in the 1930s.

Salazar said construction of a new lab and other facilities and restoration of various buildings would create about 100 jobs within 18 months at the Patuxent Research Refuge and Wildlife Research Center near Laurel.

"These are real projects that are going to make a real difference in the lives of people," Salazar said of both the local proposal and the $827 billion stimulus legislation being debated in Congress.

Salazar's visit to suburban Maryland, for which he was flanked by a group of local Democratic members of Congress, came as President Obama took his campaign for passage of the stimulus package to Elkhart, Ind., where unemployment has climbed to 15.3 percent in the past year. Obama says the plan would save or create 3 million to 4 million jobs over the next two years, but many Republicans have questioned just how much of the spending actually would create jobs.

The mission to Patuxent by Salazar, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) appeared intended to answer that criticism with an example of a place where the money would go and the number of jobs it would create.

"We will be investing in short term gain, but also for long term gain," Hoyer said, "and that's what President Roosevelt did in leading us out of the Depression."

The stimulus spending at Patuxent would inaugurate a 10-year, $76 million project to rejuvenate facilities shared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. The project has been planned for some time and meets the stimulus package requirements that it be ready to begin almost immediately.

The initial $15 million would pay for demolition and replacement of the abandoned laboratory; new pens for endangered owls, whooping cranes and other endangered birds; a new building for the Office of Migratory Bird Management; construction of housing for resident federal employees and modernization of several other buildings.

A similar gaggle of congressmen and an assistant Interior secretary gathered for the opening of Patuxent in 1939, three years after Roosevelt signed an executive order creating the refuge. The 2,200-acre property was part of a land-grant plantation owned by the Snowden family, and the Colonial Snowden Hall still stands amid a collection of weathered brick buildings, some with air conditioning units hanging in the windows.

The facility opened to considerable fanfare 70 years ago on land that had been restored after repeated harvesting of timber and quarrying for gravel.

The restoration, construction and creation of ponds was carried out by two of the major make-work organizations created during the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. The CCC was created under the Emergency Conservation Work Act in 1933, and the WPA came about under the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935. Together, they put millions of Americans back to work.

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