Kenai Peninsula Borough weighs prison options

Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Two companies wooing the Kenai Peninsula Borough government for a possibly lucrative private prison contract have finished in a virtual tie, and a third is not far behind.

A five-person panel found Management & Training Corp. to be best qualified for lobbying the state, building a prison and managing the facility.

Coming in a close second was Corrections Group North, a joint venture led by the Kenai Natives Association, the group that started the ongoing query into whether the state's first private prison should be built on the Kenai Peninsula.

Corrections Group North, comprised of the Native association, Cornell Corrections, Livingstone Sloan Inc., Neeser/VECO as well as lobbyists Joe Hayes and Kent Dawson, has proposed placing an 800- to 1,000-bed prison next door to the state-run Wildwood Correctional Center in Kenai. The land, an old Air Force base, is owned by the Native association.

Borough finance director Jeff Sinz said panel members tried several techniques to winnow out a leading proposal. They tossed out high and low scores, they looked at average scores and even took a simple vote of each panelist's personal favorite.

Management & Training Corp., made up of Rise Alaska, ECI/Hyer and Davis Constructors and Engineers, kept rising on top -- but only by a hair.

''Nothing we did to this (evaluation) changes the results,'' Sinz said. ''However, the results are always, in each case, close.''

Corrections Group North cored highest for its proposed prison site and a strong promotional package. Management & Training Corp. had slightly better qualifications and personnel, according to the evaluation. It scored significantly higher on the issue of local hire and edged out Corrections Group North in an independent review of finances.

Third in the borough's evaluation was Corrections Corporation of America, which won high marks for experience, personnel and financial backing.

The decision has been tossed to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, which is expected to meet Friday to hear from the top firms.

''This is perhaps the most monumental decision to face the borough. Certainly it's the most monumental decision I've faced in 14 years,'' said Assemblyman Jack Brown of Nikiski.

On the line is the chance to run an enterprise on which, according to prison backers, the state will spend $600 million or more in its first 20 years.

The Kenai prison proposal emerged after the state's initial plan to build a large private prison at Fort Greely near Delta Junction became snarled in lawsuits, local opposition and uncertainty about the federal government's plans for the former military reservation.

Once the borough names its partner, it plans to negotiate a contract within 30 days and immediately begin lobbying the Legislature. It wants to convince lawmakers during this session to authorize the Department of Corrections to work with the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Existing law lets the department establish a private prison only at Fort Greely.

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