The headline proclaimed something much more nefarious than the story's details told: "Hastings steered federal money for underpass near his property."
It's an accurate summary of the article, but it's hard to capture much nuance in less than 10 words.
The conspiracy theorist in all of us quickly jumped to the conclusion that Rep. Doc Hastings had somehow slipped his own version of a "bridge to nowhere" with a $750,000 earmark.
A deeper reading of the story reveals an absence of anything remotely corrupt in the affair.
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The overhyped situation was a result of a story in the Washington Post that reported Hastings and 32 others in Congress had managed to secure $300 million in earmarks for public projects that might bring some financial benefit to the various lawmakers.
In Hastings case, at least, the allegations of potential impropriety don't ring true.
The money Hastings procured is for the Lewis Street Overpass in Pasco. It just so happens that Hastings still owns Columbia Basin Paper & Supply, a janitorial business he operated before being elected to Congress and subsequently sold on contract to his brother.
The building is three blocks from the underpass, and it's reasonable to argue that improvements to major arterials nearby would make it a little easier to get to and from the business.
But Tri-Cities residents who have traveled the route through east Pasco know the existing 74-year-old narrow underpass needs replacing and has for a long time. School buses can't safely use the passage. Heck, two large SUVs traveling opposite directions are a tight squeeze through the antiquated underpass.
The fact that Hastings owns a building and some land near the project may sound fishy at first, especially when it's being reported from across the country, but it certainly won't benefit him any more than any other Pasco property or business owner.
But it will be a big benefit to the whole community, creating a better and safer route over the railroad tracks.
For an example, just look at the improvement for traffic flow and safety at the Charles D. Kilbury Overpass that carries vehicles over railroad tracks on Ainsworth Street in Pasco.
The need for the project is unquestionable, and Hastings served us well by procuring some federal dollars in 2009 toward the estimated $31 million price tag. When the city first approved plans for the project more than 10 years ago, the price was only $12 million, so the sooner the money can be procured, the better. In the meantime, the crumbling structure costs more to maintain, with a $67,000 repair made just last year.
The city and a broad range of supporting agencies asked Hastings to procure $10 million for the Lewis Street project, and hope to get that much from the state, with the city picking up about $5 million of the cost. Budget cuts at all levels of government are making it difficult to maintain crucial infrastructure. The city has put aside $500,000 and the state has kicked in $3 million.
We applaud the Washington Post for doing what newspapers do best -- follow the money and looking for improprieties. The Post did point out that Hastings had done nothing illegal or unethical by not disclosing the property owned near the funded project. Nonetheless, Hastings' office says action has been taken to officially record the transfer of the business and property to his brother.
But if the Post was looking for a smoking gun, the newspaper surely didn't find it with Hastings' earmark. He was just doing his job, procuring money to make our community safer while enhancing the economy.