Proposed prison won't be built near Palmer

Posted: Sunday, December 10, 2006

PALMER - A gravel pit near Palmer is no longer being considered as a potential spot for a proposal to build the largest prison in Alaska.

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The removal of the site leaves two prospective places for a state prison in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The proposed correctional center, which would house 1,200 to 2,251 inmates, is expected to open by 2010 and has a construction budget of about $330 million.

State and borough officials on a site-selection team have named Point MacKenzie as the best place to build the medium-security facility. The borough owns a 1,350-acre site in the area.

The site has plenty of room for expansion and few neighbors, officials said. It is less than 10 miles from the minimum-security Point MacKenzie Correctional Farm and about 10 miles from Port MacKenzie, where a borough ferry is targeted to begin running by 2008.

Expanding the 400-bed Palmer Correctional Center in Sutton is also a remaining option, said Mat-Su Community Development Director Ron Swanson.

Swanson said he believes the Point MacKenzie site is a better choice. Sutton residents oppose the proposal, he said, and that site might require a safer access road instead of the steep, switchbacked road now used.

The site near Palmer also had been opposed. The South Palmer Community Organization, a group of about 100 people, had waved signs, sent out mailers, gone door to door with petitions gathered about 2,600 signatures in opposition to the prison.

New state Corrections Commissioner Joe Schmidt, shortly after being appointed by Gov. Sarah Palin, said he didn't want a prison where it was not wanted.

The site selection team will pass its recommendations to the Mat-Su Planning Commission and the Mat-Su Assembly, which has the final say on where the prison is built.

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