Bob Riley in Trouble Over Cessna Romp

While I understand why Democrats in Alabama would be upset about the Governor using a plane that was bought for use by the state environmental agency to take a political trip, I don’t see why it has to spill over into questioning the need for the plane period.

In this post, a commenter at Left in Alabama says, “Sounds to me like the plane doesn’t save any ground trips, and Google Earth shows plenty of detail to figure out which backroads to take.”

One of my best friends worked for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and actually did surveying using the plane. The plane isn’t used just for “figuring out which backroads to take.” While it would be nice if every construction company in Alabama followed the environmental regulations every time they decided to build, the fact is many of them don’t. Since self-reporting by the companies is often a joke, the plane is a valuable tool for spotting sites that need to be inspected.

Incidentally, Gov. Riley’s trip couldn’t have been all that posh; my friend threw up the first time he rode in the tiny plane.

Michael

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5 Comments on “Bob Riley in Trouble Over Cessna Romp”

  1. Katherine Bouma Says:

    I’m very interested in talking to people about the plane or other things going on at ADEM. Working on stories right now.

    And for any of you who may have seen ADEM’s comments that I wrote a favorable comment about their plane, that’s almost true. I wrote a story about their plans to lease a plane and hire a pilot from time to time when they needed one. I never wrote about a plan to buy a brand-new Cessna Caravan and hire a full-time pilot.

    Thanks.

    Katherine Bouma
    205-325-2457

  2. Michael Says:

    I know very little about it, but I have a friend who worked in the department around the time the program was started.

    I could put him in touch with you if you’d like.

    Michael

  3. John Says:

    Katherine why didn’t you say that on your first report. Are you changing you stories now?

  4. YIV Says:

    Katherine, I forgot where in the state constitution states that any state agency needs to check with a Dixie reporter in order to purchase anything. But who am I to question a reporter? They always have the last word out and the sad thing is some people believe this junk.

  5. Katherine Bouma Says:

    No, certainly a state agency doesn’t need to check in with reporters before the purchase a plane. For some reasons ADEM chose to.

    At that time, the summer of 2005, an ADEM division chief said ADEM officials were hoping to get an EPA grant or something similar for a one-year program so they could just lease, but not be responsible for the plane. They wouldn’t have to hire a pilot full-time and get into all those expenses. They would try a year’s worth of flying to see if they could find unpermitted sites and other problems. The new permit fees from all these flights could end up totalling more than the cost of the plane. OK, interesting. I wrote that story: New, young director wants to try a bunch of new technology, here’s how they would pay for it, zippity-doo-dah. Didn’t think much more about it.

    Then the story changed.

    It became a lease-purchase financed over 10 years. There was no federal aid for it. ADEM hadn’t tapped into any grant-giving program to test this technology. A pilot was hired full-time. The plane is not paying for itself in permit violations found. And then other issues came up, such as the governor’s failure to pay for a flight to a political fundraiser.

    So at first we thought we were being given a demonstration from an agency that wanted to be very open about doing something a bit grand and unusual, acquiring a plane.

    But when we found out that initial explanation was quite different from the the outcome. We had a new story: ADEM’s got a plane and here’s how it’s being used, and here’s how much it cost. Obviously it’s been of interest.

    I’d say my biggest mistake was not checking the moment I heard they were leasing the plane to make sure the details lined up with what I’d been told in the first place. Phil Rawls of the AP actually broke the story that ADEM had bought a plane. I still assumed the agency was doing that lease-on-a-grant program first described.

    Again, I’d be glad to here from anyone by phone, letter or email about the situation, even if you just want to tell me how wrong I got it. That is often extremely educational.

    Thanks!

    Katherine Bouima
    205-325-3457
    kbouma@bhamnews.com


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