Kenai prison issue could go to local voters

Posted: Friday, May 11, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- The Alaska Legislature has given its blessing to a private prison on the Kenai Peninsula, but at least one member of the Kenai Borough Assembly thinks peninsula voters should weigh in on whether the borough should be involved.

Pete Sprague wants to put the issue on the ballot in October as an advisory vote. The final decision rests with the nine members of the borough assembly.

Legislation introduced by Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, and passed Wednesday by the Senate, authorizes the Alaska Department of Corrections to enter into a lease agreement with the Kenai Peninsula Borough for an 800- to 1,000-bed medium-security private prison. The measure is now on the desk of Gov. Tony Knowles.

The Legislature's actions fall in line with steps already taken by the borough, which include a contractual agreement with a team headed by Cornell Corrections to plan and promote the project. Sprague's was the only vote opposing that contract.

''I'm not dead set against the project,'' said Sprague, who represents the Soldotna area. ''I just want to see everything out there before I make a final decision on it. I would like to know what the people of the borough think about it. I believe the issue is big enough that people need the opportunity to speak to it.''

In March, assembly member Paul Fischer, who represents the Kasilof area, introduced a resolution calling for a special advisory election on whether to issue revenue bonds to build the prison.

Although a vote of the people is not required by state statute or borough code for revenue bonds, Fischer said such a vote would let the assembly know whether the public supports the project.

The assembly tabled Fischer's idea.

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