Kenai council calls for resolution of qualified support for prison

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2001

More people packed the Kenai City Council chambers Wednesday night than at any other meeting in recent years, as the council gathered information to make a decision about the proposed private prison that could be built on the city's doorstep.

The meeting had been called a week before by Mayor John Williams after the pro-prison group Concerned Citizens for Responsible Economic Develop-ment -- CCFRED -- and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President Tim Navarre asked the council to make a decision on the private prison.

After three hours of listening to comments, questions and testimony, council member Joe Moore called for a resolution supporting the prison, provided certain issues about water and sewer and socioeconomic impacts to the city are addressed.

"I think we can pass that resolution with those contingencies and feel good about it," Moore said.

The exact language of the pending resolution was not settled upon at the time, but it will not call for support of Proposition 1.

Council member Duane Bannock and Williams expressed concern over the council telling the city's citizens how to vote -- which it would be doing if it supported a ballot measure. Instead, the resolution will show the city's willingness to work with the borough on the prison if Proposition 1 prevails.

Proposition 1 will go before all voters in the Kenai Peninsula Borough on Oct. 2, and its outcome will give thumbs up or thumbs down to the private prison project.

There was criticism of the council's pending action. James Price, the leader of Peninsula Citizens Against Private Prisons, said after the meeting that by making such a statement before the Oct. 2 election, the council is essentially coming out in favor of Proposition 1.

"If they do it before the election, its primary effect will be to influence voters, even if they say that's not what they want to do," Price said.

Moore's resolution seems to have enough votes to pass when it comes before the council at its regular meeting scheduled for Wednesday. Several council members who had expressed concerns in the past expressed support for the resolution after having their questions answered.

"I think the prison will be a good community project, and I think the community will benefit by it totally 100 percent, and I will support (the) motion," council member Jim Bookey said, adding he had been "110 percent opposed to" Wildwood prison when it was proposed, but said he was "dead wrong" about it.

Council member Pat Porter indicated that her questions about the prison had been answered.

Council member Duane Bannock's vote is virtually guaranteed, as he has been a supporter of the prison idea for about a year.

Linda Swarner did not express an opinion, and Williams, who has come out in the past against privately run prisons, wanted assurances the city could step in and protect its interests in dealing with the borough.

Last week, Williams directed City Manager Linda Snow to prepare a report to the council on what the possible effects of a new prison on the edge of town might be. She gave a brief rundown of the report Wednesday night, which was compiled from the reports of different department heads.

Besides a possible over-taxing of the city's water and sewer system that could cost up to $12.8 million to upgrade, the report did not raise many red flags.

Kenai Police Chief Dan Morris reported his investigation into public safety issues in similar-sized prison towns showed little if any adverse effects. It stated that few people move to a prison town to follow incarcerated loved ones, creating no influx of "at-risk" families.

However the city's Parks and Recreation Department had a slightly different take, saying there could be an increase of such families and that community outreach programs and resources would be needed to deal with the family members.

There was testimony on both sides of the issue, and questions from the audience about funding and jobs, both construction and ongoing. The council members, themselves, did very little questioning of those who testified.

The council will take up the resolution on Wednesday at city hall, beginning at 7 p.m.

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