Search underway for future home of Mat-Su prison

Posted: Sunday, August 20, 2006

ANCHORAGE - A $330 million prison construction project that could potentially add millions of dollars in steady income to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough economy is now set for groundbreaking next spring, with completion anticipated by 2010.

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"Depending on how many employees it ends up having, it will probably be the third or fourth largest employer in the borough," said Dave Hanson, the borough's economic development director.

The 700,000-square-foot facility was authorized under Senate Bill 65 to house some 2,250 medium-security prisoners, many of them Alaskans now incarcerated in private prisons in Arizona, Hanson said.

The legislation enacted in 2004 calls for the borough to provide financing and a site, and for the state Department of Corrections to eventually own it, when the financing costs are repaid through annual lease payments.

The prison is expected to employ 400 to 600 people in middle-class salary-level jobs for at least 40 years, Hanson said. Additional economic impact will come from support facilities, including restaurants, motels and convenience stores for people visiting those who are incarcerated, as well as support and supply services for the prison, Hanson said.

While the actual site within the borough is still to be determined, the borough, the state Department of Corrections and the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. have reached an agreement to construct the complex somewhere in the Mat-Su Borough, state officials said Aug. 2. One day earlier, AHFC released a letter of intent to award a project monitoring contract to DLR Group, an architecture and engineering company based in Seattle, in association with RISE Alaska, a project management company based in Anchorage. Contract negotiations have begun.

The scope of the contract will cover site selection and development of the design-build specifications. Once a company is selected to build the facility, DLR Group and RISE Alaska will monitor the project through completion.

DLR Group and RISE Alaska will assess the merits of about half a dozen proposed 100- to 300-acre prison sites against access to sewer and water, the Alaska State Troopers, medical facilities and other criteria, Hanson said. After that, several public hearings will be held to see what residents think before the matter goes to a vote before the borough assembly, he said. Borough officials said public hearings on site selection could begin this fall.

While the Mat-Su Convention and Visitors Bureau actively promotes the vast borough as a four-season outdoor recreational area, complete with magnificent scenery, boundless adventure and wildlife, borough officials have looked toward broader areas of permanent economic growth, including export of natural resources through Port MacKenzie.

"This is a big deal," Hanson said. "There has to be enough land set aside so that the prison is set away from other property, (with a buffer zone of undeveloped land), but it will be located in such a way that I would not envision that it will negatively impact the tourism business."

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