They say powerful senators bring home the bacon.
For U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, it’s more like Porchetta Pork Tenderloin with a side of glazed and candied bacon, dipped in chocolate.
Shelby turned the meat formerly known as pork into exquisite cuisine that kept Alabama fed for decades. Shelby announced this week that he does not plan to run for re-election in 2022, so there will be plenty of meaty magic Alabama may miss out on after benefiting from years of having Shelby as chairman of the powerful Senate appropriations committee that controls federal purse strings.
Let’s start in Huntsville, with some fancy and authentic pork schnitzel.
In 2019, the FBI announced it would invest $1 billion to build an “HQ2,” a second headquarters, at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.
Last month, Huntsville was announced as the preferred location of the U.S. Space Command and its 1,400-person headquarters responsible for the nation’s military operations in outer space. It’s a decision that, if solidified for the long term, could possibly exceed the financial impact of the FBI decision.
In November 2020, FBI executive David Schlendorf said the FBI has nine buildings under construction at Redstone Arsenal, the first projects in a two-decade plan for FBI expansion within the gates of the Huntsville Army base. The investment should spur growth for decades, Schlendorf said, repeatedly thanking Shelby. More than 5,000 FBI employees are expected to eventually work at Redstone Arsenal.
None of it was luck of the draw. Power and influence matter.
“You look at U.S. Space Command, that was him,” said Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong.
“You look at Redstone, Army Materiel Command, a four-star general being brought to Redstone,” he said. “Historically, that’s how this book is going to be written and Richard Shelby’s name will be engraved in it in gold.”
Shelby’s named is literally engraved on buildings across the state. In 1999, the Missile and Space Intelligence Center at Redstone was named for Shelby. Even when his name’s not on it, his fingerprints often. Shelby, 86, served in the state senate from 1970-78, was elected to the U.S. House in 1978, then elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986. He’ll turn 87 on May 6.
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle credited expansion at Huntsville International Airport, including the second-longest runway in the southeast, as the work of Shelby.
“He made sure that we had the funding to be able to take the big planes that came in and because we can take in the big planes, we can do a distribution center here today,” Battle said. “We can do a Panalpina (a large cargo company at the airport) where we have the air traffic from all over the world coming into Huntsville, Alabama.”
In 2019, UAB President Ray Watts gave Shelby the president’s medal. “Senator Shelby is a longtime champion of federally funded research and, with his stalwart support, the discoveries made at UAB and other leading universities continues to have a profound impact on health and quality of life, technology and economic development,” Watts said.
In fiscal 2019, UAB’s research awards reached a record $602 million. “Much of our leading-edge research is conducted in the Richard C. and Annette N. Shelby Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research Building, which increased research space by 25 percent when it opened in 2006 and remains the largest facility in our globally competitive research enterprise, contributing substantially to an annual economic impact exceeding seven billion dollars on the state of Alabama,” Watts said.
Groundbreaking on the Shelby research building happened in 2002 after Shelby secured $27.5 million in federal funding to get it started.
In 2018, Shelby announced $1.45 million in funding for UAB from the National Science Foundation to prepare teachers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields.
“We must continue to prioritize education in Alabama and give students the necessary tools for success,” Shelby said. “I look forward to seeing the lasting impacts of this award as the participating students learn and grow.”
Shelby has helped funnel funding to colleges and universities throughout the state. From 1996-2000, Alabama colleges got $91.8 million in direct appropriations and shared in another $105 million, ranking the state behind only California and Florida.
In 2000, the Shelby Hall research center at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa was named for Shelby. In 2011, the Shelby Building at the University of South Alabama was named for Shelby after he helped secure more than $40 million for the engineering and computer science center.
There is a Shelby Hall for Technology as one of the centerpiece buildings at UAH. “You go over to the universities and he was big on university education, how he could make education work better, especially the physical buildings of education,” Battle said. “He made sure we had the facilities where we could produce some of the best and the brightest. He was always looking for that niche area that he could make bigger and better and improve.”
In coastal Alabama, Shelby’s political strength in recent years was illustrated in the federal money he secured for the Alabama State Port Authority’s massive dredging and widening project of the Mobile ship channel.
Shelby pushed for the project to make the Mobile-based ship channel competitive with deepwater seaports nationwide. In 2020, $274.3 million was authorized through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers budget to provide the federal funds needed to move the project forward.
John Driscoll, who became the port authority’s director and CEO last year, said the agency is “forever appreciative” of Shelby’s leadership and guidance.
“For decades, Senator Shelby has tirelessly advocated for sound water resources and transportation infrastructure policies for the betterment of all Alabamians,” said Driscoll. “In my short tenure as port director, I’ve realized the port’s expanding infrastructure, new cargo market opportunities and navigation investments to grow Alabama’s only seaport could not have been achieved without Senator Shelby’s contributions.”
Shelby also played a recent role in securing a $125 million federal grant for the construction of a new bridge off Interstate 10 in Mobile. That grant looms large in keeping the I-10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project under consideration after a $2.1 billion project bankrolled with tolls was declared “dead” in 2019.
Mobile and Baldwin county officials are now preparing to discuss with the Alabama Department of Transportation alternatives to the toll project out of concern over losing the federal grant that Shelby secured.
Quin Hillyer, a Mobile-based senior commentary writer and editor for the Washington Examiner, said that for the coastal region, Shelby’s retirement will be felt more on the loss on more targeted grants than the larger-scale projects. For instance, the fiscal year 2021 federal omnibus package, approved by Congress in December, included millions of dollars in appropriations in agriculture, military, transportation and health spending for a variety of Alabama-related interests.
“Fortunately for Mobile, Shelby already delivered for the port, although it would help to have him there to keep funds from being redirected away from it in the future,” Hillyer said. “Meanwhile, although Shelby didn’t do as much as some would like to finance a new bridge, we will lose his ability to finagle more help on that front if it does become available.”
Said Hillyer, “Mostly, though, it isn’t the big-ticket items that will be hugely affected by Shelby’s retirement, but help in identifying numerous small, targeted grants as opportunities arise.
It hasn’t been just the billion-dollar projects that Shelby put his heart into. Strong recalls Shelby asking him to come for a meeting with the senator in Washington. Shelby asked for ideas. Strong said Madison County needed a better tornado warning system.
That led to the implementation of a multi-million-dollar tornado warning system, Strong said.
“There’s not a bigger champion for infrastructure,” Strong said. “He understands that’s what it takes to grow a community. You look at his investment and what he’s done for the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama in Tuscaloosa, UAB, Auburn – he understands that education, if you don’t have the right facilities, you can’t recruit the next level of mechanical, electrical, rockets, propulsion rocket engineers. It’s been a great relationship.”
Strong said Shelby’s lasting impact will touch nearly every corner of the state. “If you look throughout this state, he has done everything in his power to grow this economy, to educate our workforce and that has led to great things for Alabama,” Strong said.
“Senator Shelby has been instrumental in building Alabama through his many years of honorable service,” said Alabama Power CEO Mark Crosswhite. “His national leadership elevates Alabama and provides growth opportunities for the state. Senator Shelby’s legacy of advocating for Alabama’s priorities and securing legislative successes is only matched by his principle, conviction and sense of duty to those he served.”
— to www.al.com