When Congress passed the $1.2 trillion spending package in the dark of night on Friday, Fox News noted some of the pork barrel projects inevitably included in these omnibus (or in this case “minibus”) budget bills.

One spending shoutout went to $2.5 million for a “new kayaking facility in New Hampshire.”

In this case, it’s a proposed whitewater park in downtown Franklin, N.H. — a project local taxpayers overwhelmingly rejected when asked to fund it themselves last year. So, why are America’s taxpayers paying for it now?

Just ask Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

That’s what Shaheen did, according to Franklin City Manager Judith Milner. Shaheen asked her political friends in Franklin if they wanted some “free” money from the federal government.

“Sen. Shaheen reached out and said, ‘Judy, can you give me something that I can put in the federal budget this year for a congressional delegation spend?’ Which used to be called earmarks in the old days,” Milner told The Laconia Daily Sun last August.

As a result, the money is going to Mill City Park, a nonprofit “which has partnered with the city of Franklin to create New England’s only whitewater park,” according to the park’s website.

The line item, categorized as an “outdoor recreation project,” is buried on page 274 of a 389-page Senate appropriations items list. This particular list, which covers “Transportation, Housing, Urban Development and Other Agencies,” represents just one of a six-bill package the Democrat-led Senate advanced last month.

“The $2.5 million provided for the ‘kayaking center’ in Franklin epitomizes why Citizens Against Government Waste considers earmarks to be the most corrupt, costly, and inequitable practice in the history of Congress,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz. “Earmarks circumvent the regular budget and appropriations process, and the failure by the city to obtain grants through a competitive process epitomizes how the system favors members of Congress like Sen. Shaheen.”

Shaheen declined to respond to questions about the funding from NHJournal.

Mill City Park’s most recent tax filing lists Martin Parichand as the organization’s executive director. Parichand also owns Franklin-based Outdoor New England, a private, for-profit business which describes itself as “the community’s outdoor outfitter.”

Asked by NHJournal if he had personally lobbied Shaheen for the federal funding, Parichand instead directed a reporter to “research Sen. Shaheen’s Congressional Directed Spending program” as “ it will lay out the process that is unfolding now.”

A brief line item entry under the program’s “Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies” tab lists Shaheen’s $2.5 million request and states the funds “will be used to complete in-river features suitable for Olympic-style competition.

“This includes construction of a ledge-hole feature to allow for whitewater kayaking, a 400 foot slalom course, and a standing wave feature to allow for surfing and similar activities.”

Parichand then referred additional comment requests to Jeremy Laucks, who is listed on tax forms as Mill City Park’s president.

Laucks, owner of a New Hampton-based canoe business, did not respond to a request for comment.

The $2.5 million in funding for the watersports park was originally part of a $20 million bond proposal for capital improvements introduced in April 2023 by Franklin’s economic development task force and backed by then-Mayor Jo Brown.

Parichand was one of five members serving on the city’s economic development team at the time.

The bond proposal sparked an outcry from residents, including local laundromat owner Desiree McLaughlin, a vocal critic of city spending who opposed spending taxpayer dollars on the whitewater park. McLaughlin and others argued that the $20 million bond proposal would have a significant impact on homeowner property taxes.

Homes valued at the city’s median level of $200,000 would have seen an annual tax increase of $494.

At that time, Mayor Brown was in the midst of a reelection campaign. She was a major supporter of the Mill City Park whitewater development, according to news reports.

Federal Election Commission records show Brown donated $300 in June 2023 to Shaheen’s campaign, earmarked as a “primary” donation. Shaheen is not up for reelection until 2026.

Brown lost her reelection bid to McLaughlin in a landslide last October by a more than a two-to-one margin.

McLaughlin was also a vocal critic of Parichand during deliberations of the $20 million bond proposal last spring.

“Marty (Parichand) … he is a charlatan. He is a used car salesman. At this point, in my opinion, without a car to sell,” McLaughlin told the Concord Monitor at the time.

But thanks to Shaheen, federal taxpayers will now pick up a tab local taxpayers wouldn’t touch.

To Grover Norquist at Americans for Tax Reform, this pet-project spending story epitomizes the problem with earmarks.

“When an earmark like this is given out, by definition it’s for spending on a project the usual sources won’t fund,” Norquist told NHJournal. “The private sector wouldn’t spend this money, the local nonprofits wouldn’t either. The state and local taxpayers wouldn’t spend the money.

“Instead, we have Sen. Shaheen giving this money away. The problem is, that money belongs to taxpayers. It’s not hers to give away.”