Assembly prison hearing mostly talk

Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2001

Pros, cons and all points in between were expressed by residents Tuesday night at the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly's public hearing on the proposed private prison project.

Thirty-two members of the public seized the opportunity to let the nine-member assembly know their thoughts on the subject (See related stories, this page).

Assembly president Tim Navarre started the evening by asking that comments be kept to three minutes. Although latitude was given for a variety of prison-related issues to be addressed, Navarre said the assembly was eager to hear comments specifically regarding the site being considered. Currently on the table for Alaska's first privately operated 800- to 1,000-bed medium-security prison is a 60-acre portion of land owned by Kenai Natives Association that neighbors Wildwood Correctional Complex.

"It was a good turnout and a good public airing of the prison site as well as other prison issues that the borough assembly is going to have to continue to research and get answers for," Navarre said Wednesday morning.

"The primary purpose was the site," Navarre said. "And I thought the assembly got good input on the site and that an overwhelming majority did agree that if the prison was put on the peninsula, the Wildwood site was the proper, ideal and most logical site for the placement of the prison."

Navarre said the public could expect future opportunities to listen to representatives from the Alaska Department of Corrections and members of the team -- headed by Cornell Companies Inc. -- chosen to work with the borough on the planning and promotion of the prison.

"I couldn't tell you how many different hearings there'll be," Navarre said. "But I think there'll be a number of them."

The assembly president also anticipated the assembly being invited to participate in various peninsula chamber of commerce meetings to explain more about the project.

"The other intent of the assembly is to have public hearings as (prison industry) issues or people are available to kind of inform the people," Navarre said. "How we structure those in the future has yet to be decided, but the assembly is committed to becoming educated on the issue and then getting the public educated. What we want to do is get as much factual information and not hearsay or word of mouth or innuendoes."

Navarre anticipated that the contract with the team headed by Cornell Companies will be "pretty well finalized and in the hands of the assembly sometime this weekend so that they will have a few days to review it" prior to Tuesday's assembly meeting.

Because the item was inadvertently left off the April 3 agenda, Navarre said, it will have to be added as a "lay-down" -- or last minute -- item.

"It's just dealing with promotion and planning. We're not signing to build the prison. There's no financial obligation with it either, other than what the borough expends on its own behalf.

"Then again, I haven't seen the contract," Navarre said. "Who knows what's negotiated."

The prison is on the planning commission's agenda for its April 9 meeting. The public also will have an opportunity to testify at the assembly's April 17 regularly scheduled meeting.

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