Kenai Peninsula Borough to consider push for new prison

Posted: Monday, November 20, 2000

SOLDOTNA (AP) -- Officials with the Kenai Peninsula Borough are floating a proposal that backers say could lead to construction of a huge new medium-security prison within a year.

The borough administration wants to pry a lucrative state prison contract from Fort Greely, near Delta Junction.

Borough officials are counting on a number of things falling their way. That includes winning public support. Also, a bidder would have to present a proposal acceptable to the state. The concept also would require help from the Legislature, which would have to pass a bill redirecting the prison contract toward the Kenai Peninsula.

Bill Popp, a borough Assembly member who has researched the idea, said he thinks it could work. So does the Kenai Natives Association, which owns the proposed prison site north of Kenai.

As things stand now, Delta Junction has a lock on the proposed prison. The Legislature made that decision, but the project has gotten tangled in disputes and is running out of time.

The state wants to see a facility open by 2003 to relieve overcrowding in other institutions. A new prison also would end the expensive practice of shipping Alaska inmates to a privately run facility in Arizona.

The Kenai Natives Association attracted the attention of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly last summer to pursue the idea and has worked with Assembly members to come up with a proposal.

If all the pieces fall into place, then a 1,000-bed prison would be built next to the Wildwood Pre-Trial Facility, which houses 250 inmates. The 4,700-acre property north of Kenai is a former air base.

The association hasn't found developers willing to build other things next to its existing prison so a second jail is a logical move, proponents contend.

Popp, who represents the Kenai area on the Assembly, said the estimated 250- to 300 prison jobs would broaden an economy dominated by oil, fishing and tourism.

''I think there's a lot of potential here for a fourth component to the economy of the Kenai Peninsula,'' Popp told the Anchorage Daily News.

He described a measure to be introduced by borough Mayor Dale Bagley at Tuesday's Assembly meeting as an opportunity to gauge public reaction. It would set up the borough as a conduit, linking a private prison operator with long-term state financing.

It would grant Bagley the authority to solicit bids from potential prison operators. At the same time, it would authorize him to strike a deal with the state on funding.

The Assembly would have to approve both sides of the deal.

While the borough will accept all bids, only one entity, the Kenai Natives Association, appears to be actively pursuing the project.

The association has its bid packet just about ready to go, said chief executive Michael Slezak. It has the property and also has partners ready to design, build and manage a prison, he said.

Popp said the proposal could become reality quickly.

''We could see construction as early as next winter in my opinion,'' he said. ''That's based on the premise that everything goes absolutely smoothly and there's no public objection to this project.''

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