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KENAI - The entire nine-member Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is cosponsoring an ordinance that, if passed, will let borough voters in October either open or shut the door on a proposed private prison for the peninsula.
The move also may short-circuit a local initiative petition that seeks to kick private prison operators out of the borough completely.
"I can't see where anybody either for or against this project can complain about giving voters the final say whether to go forward or not on this project," said Assembly member Bill Popp.
Popp says the issues raised by the proposed 800- to 1,000-bed medium-security prison warranted a binding vote by the public.
In a memo accompanying the ordinance, Popp said it was his intention that the ordinance replace the pending initiative petition, because he says it offers substantially the same issue to the voters.
James Price, who is leading the initiative petition effort, said Popp's ordinance was an effort to sidetrack the initiative. He characterized the ordinance as "damage control," and said it was "too little, too late."
Mako Haggerty, a petition cosponsor from Homer, said the assembly's actions might indicate second thoughts about pursuing the prison idea.
"I don't completely understand the ramifications of this thing," Haggerty said, "But maybe this is a sign that the Assembly is reconsidering their interest in going ahead with the prison."
In order for the ordinance to stop the petition, state statute requires that it be "substantially the same measure" as that contained in the initiative petition.
But both Price and Popp admit there's a distinction between the ordinance and the initiative petition. The ordinance focuses on the proposed prison as described in legislation recently signed into law that authorizes the state Department of Corrections to negotiate with the borough for additional prison space.
The circulating initiative petition, on the other hand, would prohibit all for-profit private prison operators in the borough, Popp's memo states.