ANCHORAGE - The Kenai Peninsula Borough has offered the state a location for a medium-security prison as an alternative to the proposed private prison at Fort Greely near Delta Junction.
Borough officials have suggested the state Department of Corrections build a new 1,000-bed facility near the Wildwood Prison in Kenai.
The borough's proposal, made July 25, got a lukewarm response Tuesday from Department of Corrections Commissioner Margaret Pugh, but she didn't dismiss the idea out of hand.
Pugh said Fort Greely is still the state's first choice, but she conceded that the ongoing debate over a national missile defense system has clouded its future. The Army post near Delta Junction could become a missile base if the defense system is approved.
The state wants to see a new prison opened by 2003 and has aimed at having one built at Fort Greely to take advantage of decommissioned base facilities. Pugh indicated one prison may not be enough.
``Even with a prison at Fort Greely, the state would continue to need additional jail and prison beds,'' Pugh said in a letter to Borough Mayor Dale Bagley.
Bagley had pitched the idea to Pugh in a letter, saying the Kenai and Nikiski area needs the jobs a prison would supply and would welcome the addition to the local tax base.
Backers of a new Kenai prison envision it as a sister operation to the existing Wildwood facility, which houses a 250-bed medium-security prison.
``We want to be prepared so if the opportunity arises, we're a viable option,'' said Michael Slezak, chief operating officer for the Kenai Natives Association, which owns the proposed prison site.
``Another prison at Wildwood shouldn't cause anybody any grief,'' he said.
Plans taking shape call for the borough to contract with the state to house prisoners. The Native association would then build the prison, which would be operated by a private company.
Proponents say a new Kenai Peninsula prison would bring up to $60 million in new construction to the Kenai-Nikiski area, and the private facility would create 300 new jobs.
Fort Greely will close in July 2001, and its buildings will be transferred to Delta Junction if the city has a viable use for them.
The city of Delta Junction is currently in court over the prison proposal. It was sued by Allvest Inc. after it canceled a sole-source contract with the company to develop the prison. The city now wants to take bids on the project.
Earlier this year, state Sen. Jerry Ward, an Anchorage Republican who represents parts of the Kenai Peninsula, tried to press Delta Junction into either building a prison or passing on it. At the time, he singled out Kenai and Seward as alternatives. He said he isn't involved in the new push to bring the facility to the Kenai Peninsula, but he applauds the move.
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