Borough's elected officials offer opinions

Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2001

It wasn't just the public that had its say at Tuesday's public prison hearing. Each of the nine borough assembly members took a few minutes at the end of the meeting to address the audience.

Grace Merkes, of Sterling, who opposes a privately run prison, said she believes Alaska legislators also are ambivalent concerning the private versus public issue. She urged the residents to contact their legislators.

Paul Fischer, of Kasilof, said he attended the hearing "to listen" and would summarize the testimony for reference at future assembly meetings.

Like Merkes, Milli Martin, of Homer, said she also is concerned about the private and public question.

"It is an issue that needs to be discussed," Martin said. "It needs to be discussed at the legislative level."

Chris Moss, also from the southern peninsula, said borough decisions regarding the prison have to be based on "what's best for the borough."

"That hasn't been decided yet," Moss said.

Bill Popp, of Kenai, echoed Moss' comments, saying, "The process is not by any means done."

"We have a long way to go to find out all the facts," Popp said, referencing issues that had been raised during the evening including wages and public versus private.

"If you feel the facility should be state operated, contact your legislator," Popp told the audience.

Jack Brown, of Nikiski, summarized other issues to be addressed, including the prison's impact on water, sewer and schools.

"The school system could use every kid it can get at $7,000 a pop," Brown said of funding generated by increased enrollment resulting from the relocation of prison staff and families of inmates.

He also referenced the peninsula's need for "sustainable jobs" that don't "depend on the Board of Fish or fluctuations of the price of oil."

Ron Long, of Seward, said his community addressed issues arising during the planning and construction of Seward's Spring Creek Correctional Center similar to those being discussed Tuesday evening.

"We had the same sort of discussions that we're hearing now," Long said, referring to concerns of overloading social structures, the ability for existing infrastructure to support the prison and "the bigger issue of whether we should have a prison at all."

"We pursued the project and were successful," Long said. "It wound up in Seward largely because of the support."

He urged the public to be involved in the process and said his major concern is ensuring a "well-run quality prison" that focuses on "rehabilitation rather than incarceration."

Pete Sprague, of Soldotna, joined other assembly members in thanking everyone who attended the hearing.

As he brought the hearing to a close, assembly president Tim Navarre said, "We, as the borough assembly, pledge to you tonight to keep you informed as we get informed."

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