Editor's Note: All week, CNN examines the stimulus and looks at one of the greatest areas of concern for Americans: the economy. Today, can a $5.5 million resort town restoration project be a good use of stimulus aid? Our Christine Romans finds out why one woman is grateful for the stimulus. And tomorrow on American Morning, we find out why a bridge that was built to make residents safe is now being called a waste of their money.
By Christine Romans and Sara Lane, CNN
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (CNN) – It's the dead of winter and Rehoboth Beach is hopping...with construction workers rebuilding a mile of old boardwalk with $5.5 million stimulus dollars.
City Commissioner Stan Mills shows off the project to CNN, thrilled that the boardwalk will be finished for the start of the season. It's frigid here now, but more than a dozen workers are dumping sand, laying boards, and maneuvering heavy equipment. All thanks to the massive federal stimulus.
"There would be no workers here. There would be no workers potentially getting paychecks," Mills says, saying that parts of the boardwalk were crumbling and more than 50 years old.
But stimulus for a resort town? The project landed on a Republican list of wasteful stimulus projects. Even a local Democrat, Angel Clark,staged a small protest against it. She's worried America is spending money it doesn't have on projects it doesn't need.
"Five and a half million dollars is an extremely large amount of money," Clark says. "It doesn't make sense to me the concept of using money to build this boardwalk when it was already functional."
But don't tell Stan Mills it's waste and not stimulus. Anything that attracts tourists, he says, helps the restaurants, shops and hotels, who in turn hire workers.
"Certainly to let something deteriorate would be a turnoff, and at worst case, it would be a safety issue," Mills says.
The famous boardwalk is not Rehoboth's only stimulus project. Two miles away, in a low-income neighborhood where people make less than $20,000 a year, is a much smaller stimulus project for $130,000.
A small band of neighborhood residents are learning basic weatherization skills, and using them to repair and insulate local homes.
In the shadow of the big multi-million-dollar boardwalk project, do these residents feel slighted by their much smaller grant?
"We've got to have the boardwalk, because that keeps me working," says Eleanor Whaley. Like most of her neighbors, Whaley works in the beach resort town and depends on tourists. Whaley says she's glad Rehoboth Beach got the huge grant, but she and her neighbors could have used a lot more stimulus money too.
Whaley is vice president of the West Rehoboth Community Land Trust, which is managing the weatherization project. The group hopes to eventually buy land in the community to build new affordable homes.
With $5.5 million, says Richard Legatski, the group's president, "We could make this whole community into a very nice, desirable place to live. We could provide housing that they could afford, that would be much nicer."
Making do with the $130,000 grant, the group is training eight people to weatherize homes, hoping it will lead to better jobs as the country invests more in home energy efficiency.
Besides training with the program, Eleanor has also seen a direct benefit in her house. Two bathrooms in her small trailer were ruined by leaking water that destroyed insulation and left hot air streaming out in winter. Her heating bill was $230 a month. The weatherizing program paid to repair the bathrooms and Whaley has seen her heating bill drop by $40. The program will also replace her windows, and Whaley expects to see an even greater energy savings.
"I think it's the best thing that could have happened, not only for me, but for other residents that are living here in the community," Whaley says of the stimulus money.
It's hard to gauge the economic benefits of either stimulus program, but the West Rehoboth project has created one job for Kevin McKinney, the project manager, and the boardwalk rebuild has created the equivalent of about 31 full-time jobs, according to the Delaware Department of Transportation.
Eleanor Whaley and Stan Mills say their projects will also have long-term benefits, creating future jobs and bringing in more tourists to keep the area growing.
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