CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: MARTY

HED:Marty Russell: Hmmm ... maybe this is Rockette science

They'll be lucky if they aren't met at the county line by an angry mob waving torches and pitchforks.

That was my first reaction to the news late Monday afternoon that Boeing had picked Minnesota-based Alliant Techsystems to build rocket casings at Yellow Creek in Tishomingo County.

That and maybe that someone had been out in the sun too long.

After all, our congressional delegation has yelled, "Rocket!" so many times in the past that we tend to take it with the same grain of salt we swallow when they tell us our $25 campaign donation means more to them than the thousands they get from corporate contributors.

But there it was. Yet another headline announcing plans to utilize the extreme northeastern corner of the state to build rockets, as if Wernher von Braun had set out one day heading west from Huntsville, stumbled on this little finger of land and claimed it in the name of rocket science.

On the surface, the history of Yellow Creek would appear to be one of politics, poor planning, wasteful spending and expectations that started out in orbit and now have a hard time reaching the altitude of a damp bottle rocket.

You'd have to promise Charlie Brown the Little Red-Haired Girl and a major league contract to convince him to queue up to kick this football again.

Billions of dollars - that's "B" as in boondoggle - have been spent on the 4,200 acres at Yellow Creek, making it the most expensive piece of real estate this side of Bill Gates' carport.

But while the spending at Yellow Creek would appear to be just the work of a government run amok, one that spends 50 cents on Medicaid and a couple billion on a missile system with the accuracy of a blind man having a dizzy spell, there are other possibilities.

Consider, for instance, one scenario you won't find on the Internet, at least not until I figure out how to create Web pages. In fact, you won't find it mentioned in any government documents with the possible exception of the X-Files.

You see, Yellow Creek is bigger than any of us ever imagined.

It's a black project. It's one of those government programs that doesn't show up on any agency's budget like that CIA building everyone thought was just another suburban office building or the cost of assassinating Elvis.

Consider the facts:

Yellow Creek began with the Tennessee Valley Authority starting a nuclear power plant on the site and then pulling out before the project was complete. However, substantial structures had been built for the purpose of handling nuclear materials.

Then came Lockheed, which built structures to load fuel and other components into rockets, followed by Thiokol, which began setting up facilities to fabricate rocket nozzles.

Now comes Boeing and its subsidiary, Alliant Techsystems, with plans to set up a line to build rocket bodies.

Hmmm. Let's recap. Government lulls local populace into abject apathy with an apparent string of failures at Yellow Creek while putting into place piece by piece the facilities and components needed to (drum roll, please) BUILD THE WORLD'S FIRST WORKING NUCLEAR-POWERED ROCKETS!

Stranger things have happened.

Of course, Yellow Creek could just be another federal corporate welfare project designed to bolster the sagging aerospace and defense industry in much the same way that Naval shipbuilding contracts are now parceled out to numerous companies to keep up the appearance of competition in the industry.

Then again, there's another possibility. Perhaps the announcement Monday contained a typographical error and those 100 jobs it mentioned are for 99 Rockettes and an Austrian body builder.

Hmmm. Building Rockette bodies. Now there's a worthwhile expenditure of tax money.

Marty Russell is senior reporter for the Daily Journal

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