Kenai votes on private prison

Haines ballot includes heli-tour measure

Posted: Monday, October 01, 2001

Voters go to the polls on the Kenai Peninsula on Tuesday to decide whether to prohibit a private prison in the area. Meanwhile, Haines Borough residents will voice their opinions on heli-skiing.

The prison issue has attracted major contributions, with backers including the company that would run the institution raising large amounts of money. Pro-prison forces combined to raise nearly $150,000, according to reports filed last week with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, about three times as much as prison opponents.

Big supporters of the prison ads are Cornell Companies Inc., selected by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to operate the facility, and the Kenai Natives Association, which owns the land where the prison would be built. The biggest contributor was Neeser Construction of Anchorage, expected to get the contract to build the prison, which donated $44,500.

Big contributors to the groups opposing the prison are Public Employees Local 71 and Public Safety Employees Association, the union that represents Alaska State Troopers and state prison guards.

The Legislature has agreed to pay $26 million a year for 20 years for the 800-bed private prison in the borough.

In Haines, the city's uneasy relationship with the visitor industry will see a further test with two ballot measures. One asks residents whether they want managed use of helicopters for commercial recreation, including heli-skiing, from February to April.

Supporters say approval lays the groundwork for an expanded winter economy, while opponents say an affirmative vote opens the door to unregulated growth in year-round heli-touring.

A second measure before Haines Borough voters would create a service area to regulate commercial flightseeing tours in all areas except within city limits.

The ordinance's enforceability over federally regulated air space isn't clear. A New York municipal court this year, however, upheld that city's ability to regulate flightseeing tours within its boundaries.

Service area supporters say federal and state agencies that regulate the industry haven't demonstrated they can successfully curb industry growth.

The service area board would have the authority to regulate and permit commercial helicopter flightseeing tours, prohibit landings of new commercial flightseeing operations and make recommendations to public agencies on the number of helicopter tours.

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