Government wastes $600,000 on Abandoned Fire Tower

by Lewis Loflin

Around Halloween 2007 arsonists destroyed the Jefferson National Forest High Knob Observation Tower and a restroom building. Nobody is sure when it was built, perhaps the 1960s. Two men are serving prison sentences over the incident. I had been there years ago. It's in the middle of nowhere and while the view was great without the tower (it was locked up when I was there in the 1980s), the mostly wooden structure was interesting and was not the big attraction everyone makes it out to be. It shouldn't take much to replace either. To quote the Kingsport Times-News in December of 2007 from Forest Service officials:

"We lost a lot of property in a short time. The bathroom, a wood and block structure, I don't know, it would probably cost $10,000, $15,000, maybe $20,000 to replace. It just costs a lot now these days to build or rebuild anything," Bush said. "As far as replacing High Knob Tower, I'm sure that is going to be talked over. The thing is, the way our budgets are we'll just have to wait and see when the money's available. If it went to $50,000 to $100,000 to rebuild the tower, I wouldn't be surprised."

So how did a $10,000 outhouse and $50,000 to $100,000 wooden building balloon into over $600,000 to replace? How does this qualify for federal transportation funds? Enter Congressman Rich Boucher and Senator Jim Webb. The following is from the Kingsport Times-News July 7, 2009:

Ninth District U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher announced that the project has been awarded a $280,000 federal Transportation Enhancement Act...coupled with the fundraising efforts...that brings available funds to at least $400,000. The estimated cost to build the tower is nearly $600,000.

Here is the real gimmick:

Boucher noted that soon afterward, he brought together interested local residents and government officials, U.S. Forest Service representatives and other stakeholders to develop a strategy for rebuilding it, and for developing other facilities in the High Knob area...

If it's pork, Rick will feed the hogs. The construction was supposed to start in 2010. Other porky projects for High Knob is a network of horse trails that made him a laughing stock in the New York Times. In 2005, Congress approved Boucher's appropriation request of $750,000 various hose trails leading nowhere.

To quote Rick, "It is my goal that High Knob become a major tourist destination for visitors who are seeking a premier outdoor experience, and today's event is a significant step in advancing this goal." Here we are six years later and nothing nothing to show for it.

In A Tale of Two Trust Funds by John Tierney May 14, 2005 in the New York Times he write:

Don't be discouraged by this week's report that traffic congestion is worse than ever across America. Relief is on the way from Congress, thanks to one of the designated 3,800 "high-priority projects" in the new highway bill. It's a new transit system guaranteed to free you from bumper-to-bumper traffic, as long as you have a horse.

This addition to the nation's transportation infrastructure is the brainchild of Representative Rick Boucher, a Democrat from the southwestern Virginia mountains that Daniel Boone traversed on the way to Kentucky. Mr. Boucher secured $750,000 of highway money for the "construction of horse trails and assorted facilities" in Jefferson National Forest.

When I expressed doubts to Mr. Boucher that these new horse trails would ease traffic on the roads, he replied, "That's fair to say." He didn't expect any commuters to use them. But he insisted this really wasn't an unusual use of money from the highway trust fund, and he had a point...

Now let's turn ahead to 2011 where the national economy is going off a cliff as both political parties squabble like children. Senator Jim Webb of Virginia proves just why he doesn't deserve re-election and why he isn't running. This came in from the Bristol Herald Courier July 01, 2011:

The High Knob Observation Tower in Wise County, Virginia is going to be rebuilt. Senator Jim Webb announced Friday that $50,000 in federal funding will help rebuild the structure which was destroyed by arson in 2007. He says the grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission will help boost tourism is Wise County and surrounding areas.

The High Knob Observation Tower Enhancement project will focus on the reconstruction of the local landmark and will lay the groundwork for a comprehensive tourism project. Local leaders plan for the tower project to be a stimulus for future developments such as an artisan center, visitor center and environmental education center.

These people are like drug addicts searching for the that "high" that never seems to come and they just snort or shoot up more dope with less and lees effect. Hey Jimmy, what happened to the $750,000 from 2005 that was supposed to boost tourism? The last sentence is critical in that the whole project is part of another grant farming scam designed into tap into a stream of government money. It's not "stimulus" it's more pork that has for years produced nothing for the residents of Southwest Virginia.

As this is going on, thousands line up in nearby Wise every year for the Remote Area Medical clinic because their low-paying jobs (even if they had one) leaves them unable to afford eye glasses or dental care. The Virginia Department of Transportation in 2011 is broke and doesn't even have money to fix the roads. But who needs potholes filled in, get a damn horse.

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