Area benefiting from stimulus funds

Nine months into the Obama administration's stimulus plan for the nation's economy, the flow of dollars into the Augusta region has generated more than news.

Anglers at Thurmond Lake can enjoy new courtesy docks and recreation facilities. Medical College of Georgia researchers are awaiting funds for research and computers. Road widenings and repavings are moving forward ahead of schedule. Even the Augusta Housing Authority will see some green that includes $6.1 million in renovations for Peabody Apartments.

The biggest stimulus apple in the local economy is tied to the $1.6 billion in U.S. Energy Department funding at Savannah River Site, where thousands of workers are either at work or being added in hopes of completing environmental cleanup projects years ahead of schedule.

"The total head count as of Jan. 8, 2010, is 2,860," SRS spokesman Jim Giusti said Wednesday. The goal announced at the program's onset was to create or retain at least 3,000 jobs.

Most of the stimulus funds are being managed by the site's main contractor, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, and are being used to accelerate projects that include the decommissioning of P and R reactors, which once produced plutonium for the nation's nuclear arsenal. Workers also hope to speed up exporting of nuclear waste shipments from SRS and demolition of obsolete buildings.

Though the spending, and the jobs, are expected to last only through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act's September 2011 deadline, the impact of the SRS cleanup projects will be felt for much longer, according to Rick McLeod, the executive director of the SRS Community Reuse Organization, an economic development consortium.

"What will last longer is the issue of reducing the site footprint, which is one of the things this series of projects is supposed to do," he said.

Speeding up efforts to consolidate the site's activities within a much smaller area will in time free up outlying areas for reuse and new missions sooner, he said.

"As they consolidate and shrink those areas, more land becomes suitable for other uses -- not only things like an energy park but for other community activities."

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.