Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The WPA in Pensacola: Yesterday and Today

Pensacola News Journal reporters Louis Cooper and Jamie Page have combined with two front page, above-the-fold articles in today's paper that answer a lot of questions rumbling around in local minds -- and then some. It's terrific business journalism with context, something for everyone, and an inspired editorial assignment.

"Remembering the WPA" by Cooper describes the kinds of WPA projects that brought "creative works as well as brick-and-mortar economic stimulus projects to ... Northwest Florida" during the Great Depression. And, what do you know! Two photos of Milton's recently rescued prize mural by George Snow Hill are included.

One of the photos is partly visible behind Milton historian Nathan Woolsey, on line here. The other is a long black-and-white photo by Katie King, in the newspaper's print edition only, of the complete work.

King's may well be the only professionally done full reproduction of "Loading Pulpwood" in the whole world. It needs to be made more widely available, perhaps in a lithograph format. (We'll take a hundred or two, ourselves, to give as gifts.)

"Local Projects Seek Federal Stimulus Help" by Paige and Cooper is the perfect companion piece. It give us the first shopping list we've seen of specific projects local community governments are seeking, from Pensacola to Navarre and Perdido Key to the little town of Century.

Santa Rosa County, Paige and Cooper report, "has identified nearly $70 million in projects for potential funding in the federal stimulus package, with more than $67.5 million of that in road projects." Escambia County, of course, is still "preparing a list."

The article also identifies legitimate concerns local leaders have that many local priorities could be hijacked by state officials in Tallahasee:
“Large blocks of dollars from the federal government rarely come available like this. Not since the WPA days have they tried to do this kind of stimulus,” Pensacola City Manager Al Coby said.
* * *
Because the stimulus bill is constantly changing, it’s hard to tell how the money will be funneled to local governments, Escambia County Administrator Bob McLaughlin said.

The Florida Department of Transportation is telling cities and counties that transportation funding will come through individual states.

“There is the concern that if the money goes through the state to local governments, how much is it going to be after it goes through those filters,” Coby said. “Those funds could be siphoned or redirected to other places.”
All in all, the two articles and accompanying photos constitute an outstanding example of down-to-earth business journalism with a local focus that educates and informs. Let's hope it inspires follow-ups as the News Journal tries to track down any surviving residents who remember the local WPA, and perhaps finds a way to invite and publish public input on stimulus projects that would meet local needs.

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