I-Team: Millions of Stimulus Dollars Still Unused in Tri-State

$780 billion package signed by President Obama three years ago.

Three years after President Barack Obama signed the controversial $780 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, projects that were approved for millions of stimulus money in 2009 and 2010 languish in the “not started” category of government data, NBC New York's I-Team has found.

The goal of ARRA was to inject money into the economy, much of it on so-called “shovel-ready” projects, and to ultimately create jobs and reverse or stop the deepening recession.

But as of February 2012, more than 200 approved projects totaling more than $200 million in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are still listed as "not started," according to data analyzed by the I-Team in partnership with ProPublica.

Track stimulus money by state here.

For example, nearly three years after Bayonne, N.J., received a nearly $4 million grant for a new firehouse, the city is still dispatching some fire trucks from a temporary roadside tent.

Bayonne Public Safety Director Jason O'Donnell believes the project was shovel-ready when the funding was approved, but said work on the new firehouse was delayed due to required geo-technical and environmental studies.

He said the firehouse is to be built on a former landfill and the city needed to verify it was safe. The groundbreaking is now scheduled for spring.

“We certainly ran into a few hurdles, which are not uncommon, as any developer will tell you," said O’Donnell.

Bayonne is not alone. There are dozens of other local projects with similar apparent delays, including a $3.5 million wastewater facility in Buena, N.J., approved in May 2009.

In the project data compiled by ProPublica, the Buena wastewater project status was listed as "Not started / No jobs created," and "Currently awaiting preconstruction meeting on 01/18/2012."

A new fire alarm system for the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Manhattan is also still under construction, even though the contract was awarded in December 2009.

“I think ‘shovel-ready’ is a misnomer,” said O’Donnell.

ProPublica investigative journalist Michael Grabell agreed lawmakers may have oversold the term “shovel-ready,” but pointed out many of the projects were ambitious in nature and had long-term goals.

"In New York, it's funding the Second Avenue subway. It's funding the Moynihan Station, the Staten Island Ferry and the Fulton Street Transit Center," Grabell said. "All of these things are going to take time to build and they will last a long time."

In fact, analysis of the data from ProPublica indicates that private companies in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have the edge when it comes to quickly spending stimulus cash.

John Posimato, owner of Flooring Liquidators in Elmsford, N.Y., said his project of building a 9,000-square foot showroom was truly shovel-ready, and he wasted no time spending cash from a stimulus loan he received in July 2009.

“We were able to hire 12 more people," said Posimato, who nearly finished building the showroom before his government-backed loan cleared. "We were able to grow the business.  We were able to take a piece of property that was an eyesore to the community and put up a beautiful building compared to what was here which was a closed diner for like 12 years."

And city leaders in Bayonne said delays associated with their new fire station are isolated. They pointed to a newly constructed wind turbine, also funded by the Recovery Act, which was quickly constructed and will generate power for municipal utilities.

Additionally, reporting errors may account for some of the projects listed as “not started” in the ProPublica data.

Government and private project managers are responsible for making periodic updates about the number of jobs they’ve created and the status of each project. It is possible some of the project managers misreported or failed to inform the federal government when a project began or was completed.

In the tri-state, nearly 60 percent of the projects still listed as “not started” are responsibilities of state and local governments.

To check on the status of local recovery projects funded by ARRA, visit recovery.gov.

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