The Wine Train: A poster child for “stimulus” pork-barreling

Zombie has a juicy story about an investigation by California Watch (reprinted in the SF Chronicle ) on how “stimulus” funds are being in Northern California.

There’s a tourist train line running through the Napa Valley (California’s wine growing country).

[The] Wine Train [is] a private rail line established by the late Vincent DeDomenico, the wealthy creator of Rice-A-Roni pasta. Sixteen times each week, according to the Wine Train’s Web site, the train transports tourists from Napa to St. Helena aboard restored dining cars. A champagne dinner on the Vista Dome car costs $129 per person. About 125,000 people ride the Wine Train each year.

$54 million in stimulus funds were allocated to relocating the tracks and redoing the bridge. The work was awarded in a no-bid contract to Suluutaaq, Inc. of Anchorage, Alaska. “Because the company was founded by Alaska Natives, it enjoys special access to federal contracts.”

The “company” (which appears to be basically a Caucasian CEO and a handful of staff, few of them “Alaska Native”) then subcontracted an actual (reputable) construction company (Peter Kiewit & Sons, also a contractor on the Bay Bridge) to do the actual work.

According to Federal records, Suulutaaq is paying Kiewit $28.1 million – 53 percent of the total stimulus contract. Other subcontractors, all from the lower 48 states, get another $4.7 million. Profit to Suluutaaq for doing essentially no work? About $20.4 million. Ka-ching!

And note not all the rogues in this rogues’ gallery are Democrats:

Suulutaaq is one of dozens of Alaska Native corporations that have emerged as players in federal contracting via measures crafted in the 1980s and 1990s by former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, a powerful lawmaker whose career ended with a contracting scandal.

For decades, the U.S. Small Business Administration has run a preferential contracting program to aid disadvantaged businesses. Qualifying firms can get federal contracts worth up to $5.5 million by negotiation, rather than competitive bidding.

The Stevens measures gave corporations that were set up by Alaska Natives special access – with no cap on the size of contracts they can obtain.

Zombie sums up:

So, basically, a white wheeler-dealer got himself appointed CEO of a shell company that’s legally classified as an “Alaska Native corporation,” then, using this unique privileged status, finagled a no-bid contract to get $54 million in taxpayer funds for a construction job — and then used a small portion of that money to hire subcontractors to do the actual work, while pocketing the rest as pure profit.

Nice, eh? And guess what: You’re the sucker in this swindle.

One has the suspicion that the entire “Stimulus” is nothing but countless Wine Train-style deals bundled together and given an uplifting name to disguise that fact that it’s little more than a thousand unnecessary crooked backroom scams with essentially no oversight.


UPDATE: Fenway Nation has more.

UPDATE 2: from Zombie’s comments, #25: “Reminds me of a low income housing project going up here in Houston. According to one of their legal postings, the total budget divided by the number of units comes out to $550,000 per unit. And they will be build out of fiberboard…”


2 thoughts on “The Wine Train: A poster child for “stimulus” pork-barreling

  1. I was going to use the word “Eskimo” in some kind of pun-tastic headline, but discovered that according to the PC Word Police one can’t say “Eskimo” any more as it’s considered a taboo term. Sigh. And I couldn’t even use “Inuit,” because not 100% of Native Americans in Alaska are Inuit. No — one is now compelled to use the totally unfun “Alaska Native.” Sheesh! My colorful language is going down the pooper. All the interesting words are one by one disappearing, banished to the Dungeon of Inappropriate Verbiage.

    I just checked wikipedia on this, and it seems to be those pesky Canadians bullying us once again! :

    “In Alaska, the term Eskimo is commonly used, because it includes both Yupik and Inupiat, while Inuit is not accepted as a collective term or even specifically used for Inupiat. No universal replacement term for Eskimo, inclusive of all Inuit and Yupik people, is accepted across the geographical area inhabited by the Inuit and Yupik peoples.[1] In Canada and Greenland, the term Eskimo has fallen out of favour, as it is considered pejorative by the natives and has been replaced by the term Inuit. The Canadian Constitution Act of 1982, sections 25 and 35 recognized the Inuit as a distinctive group of Canadian aboriginals.[2]

    Folklore has it that speakers of some Algonkian languages coined the term Eskimo to mean “eaters of raw meat”. Linguistic research by anthropologists does not support that etymology, and the majority of academic linguists hold the non-pejorative view of Eskimo, but it is nevertheless commonly felt in Canada and Greenland that the term Eskimo is pejorative.[1][8][9][10][11]
    The Inuit Circumpolar Conference meeting in Barrow, Alaska, officially adopted “Inuit” as a designation for all Eskimos, regardless of their local usages, in 1977[citation needed]. However, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, as it is known today, uses both “Inuit” and “Eskimo” in its official documents[12][13].

    Because of the linguistic, ethnic, and cultural differences between Yupik and Inuit peoples there is uncertainty as to the acceptance of any term encompassing all Yupik and Inuit people. There has been some movement to use Inuit, and the Inuit Circumpolar Council, representing a circumpolar population of 150,000 Inuit and Yupik people of Greenland, Canada, Alaska, and Siberia, in its charter defines Inuit for use within the ICC as including “the Inupiat, Yupik (Alaska), Inuit, Inuvialuit (Canada), Kalaallit (Greenland) and Yupik (Russia).”[21] However, even the Inuit people in Alaska refer to themselves as Inupiat (the language is Inupiaq) and do not typically use the term Inuit. Thus, in Alaska, Eskimo is in common usage, and is the preferred term when speaking collectively of all Inupiat and Yupik people, or of all Inuit and Yupik people throughout the world.[1]
    Alaskans also use the term Alaska Native, which is inclusive of all Eskimo, Aleut and Indian people of Alaska, and is exclusive of Inuit or Yupik people originating outside the state. The term Alaska Native has important legal usage in Alaska and the rest of the United States as a result of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.”

    Oh, I give up!

  2. For whatever it’s worth, I think the new bridge and realignment were part of a larger flood control project that was approved earlier.

    HOWEVER, Suluutaaq earning $20 Million for not even lifting a finger smacks of some of the labor racketeering, kickbacks, underbidding and sweetheart deals that the mafia, unions and corrupt pols took (take?) part in back east on a regular basis.

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