Letters to the Editor

Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2001

Proposed prison not compatible with recreation-tourism experience

The Kenai Peninsula provides one of the most desirable areas in all of Alaska in providing an excellent environment to raise our families. It provides hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation opportunities second to none. It has a moderate climate and scenery most places can only dream about.

As we look to the future, the potential to develop a high-paying tourist industry lies untapped in front of us. In order to take advantage of this opportunity we must be very careful of the type and amount of development which takes place. I believe putting a 1,000-bed prison in our midst is not compatible with the basic desires of the citizens who live here nor does it support an image that enhances a premier recreation-tourism industry.

This albatross may bring in a couple hundred low-paying jobs to the area, many of which will be filled by outsiders moving into this area. This may benefit a few local real estate agents, but that's about all.

The recent census put the U.S. population at 281 million and an increase of 120 million more is projected over the next 25 years. These additional 120 million people don't bring 120 million acres of land with them. That means they will be jammed into the same areas already occupied by the current population. What this means is that in the Lower 48 there won't be any high-quality, undeveloped areas left (other than overcrowded parks and forest land). It will pretty much be a continuous coast-to-coast morass of cities, towns, dwellings, etc.

My point is, the Kenai Peninsula offers recreation-wilderness experiences and scenery that will no longer exist in the Lower 48. If we plan now, we can get an infrastructure in place to take advantage of this opportunity. If we don't plan for it and continue our "growth-at-any-cost" mentality, we'll miss it.

Unplanned, noncompatible development will destroy the very essence of what makes the Kenai Peninsula so unique and desirable.

There is a fishing lodge in Idaho that offers a cabin, meals and a fishing trip on the river for $1,000 per day per person. This compares to about $320 per person per day for comparable services -- except here we offer some of the best salmon and halibut fishing in the world. We provide a maximum experience for a minimum return.

I believe it's time for our legislators and their constituents to get together and decide how Alaskans can take advantage of what they have.

John Ossowski

Soldotna

Too many questions, not enough concrete answers about prison

The Cornell Prison Project: Why?

* The sole source issue: It's not right to award an enormous public contract to a private contractor without allowing bids from other competitive bidders. Our borough signed a contract which awards Cornell up to $100,000 if they are required to submit to a competitive bid process for the design, construction and operation of the prison facility. Our borough assembly agreed to this contract with Cornell before completing public testimony to determine if the community even wants this project and before even beginning a feasibility study to determine what impact this project will have on our community.

That's up to $100,000 of taxpayers' money to Cornell if we choose not to allow them to build and operate our prison with our money on their terms. The only real relief from this obligation is "failure to obtain legislative or executive branch approval for the project during the term of this contract." I urge everyone to contact their state legislators and demand that this contract not be awarded. This process is flawed.

* Real costs: House Bill 149 indicates expectations of "savings" of 18 to 20 percent less than the current all-state facilities rate. While this sounds like reasonable justification, this is only intent language. There is no assurance that there would be any cost savings to the state. This bill opens the door to Cornell, and, once it is through it, there will be no easy solution or going back.

* Size and scope: A project of this magnitude should be approved by a vote of the people. We should be provided concrete answers from responsible parties. So far we are arguing against smoke and mirrors, as no responsible party has stepped forward to give the public facts. I challenge the borough to answer relevant questions with factual answers before committing us to further liability.

* Liability: The way HB 149 is written, our borough has direct responsibility for the future operation of this prison. When Cornell or another third party operator is found guilty of violations, which they have been many times in the past, we the citizens of the borough shall be responsible for restitution and the civil penalties levied. This is a liability that shall be assumed by each taxpayer within the Kenai Peninsula Borough, not by the state and not by Cornell.

Additionally, there are many issues related to the real vs. the perceived benefits from employment opportunities. There are safety concerns. What effect will an institution of this size have on our local property values and on our quality of life. No one has addressed the dreadful record of previously operated prisons and halfway houses by Cornell and its subsidiaries both here in Alaska and in the Lower 48. No one from the borough has offered the public any answers to these important questions. Why?

I think our initial focus should have been: Why should we want this? What will this really do for our community? How will this affect our future? What are the real benefits, if any? What are the potential problems? Why are there so few concrete answers?

I have many more questions than I have answers, and I wonder ... "Why?"

James Price

Nikiski



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