Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Site selection for prison includes public

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Monday, December 18, 2006

PALMER—MAT-SU residents are invited to tell prison project officials what you think of the proposed locations for a new prison in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

The state Department of Corrections is holding its first public meeting on the project on Thursday, Oct. 12, from 6 pm to 8:30 pm at the Wasilla Multi-Use Sports Complex. The meeting will cover a list of all the sites that were considered and a shorter list of sites that met minimum criteria.

The prison, so far estimated to cost $303 million plus inflation, is the state's largest construction project since the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Up to 20 acres will be under one roof. The prison will hold 2,251 beds and is expected to be as populous as the state's 10th largest city.

The site of the medium security prison has not been selected. The public will have ample opportunity to give comments on the proposed location ns. Today, there are about a dozen proposed sites throughout the Borough. This Friday, Sept. 29, is the deadline for a request for proposals for private land sales for the project.

Initially state or Borough land was identified, and soon private land may be added to the proposed list. A prison site selection team including state and Borough officials narrowed a list of sites based on a set of basic criteria, among the criteria, that the site be within a 30-mile radius of the Parks/Glenn highways, located no closer than one mile to a school, and consistent with any existing comprehensive plans, Special Use Districts or zoning.

After the public meeting on Oct. 12, the list of sites will be further narrowed, based on a technical review and on public comment. Technical screening includes closer scrutiny of the sites to see if they are in flood zones, on develop-able soils, and have sufficient water, among other findings.

Additional public hearings on the "short list" of sites will be held in late October and early November at various locations throughout the Borough. The Borough Planning Commission and the Assembly will also hold public hearings and make a decision on the sites later in the year.

The prison is a joint project between the Dept. of Corrections, the MAT-SU Borough, and the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. The Borough will provide financing, land, and will own the facility. Corrections will lease the prison from the Borough, operate it, and eventually own it when the financing costs are repaid through 25 annual lease payments. AHFC will act as the Borough's construction project manager.

The Borough will issue revenue bonds to finance the project. Borough Finance Director Tammy Clayton said the bonds do not obligate the Borough financially and will not be paid by Borough taxes. The state will pay for the bonds through lease payments.

In August, the state chose an architect and engineering company and a project management company for the project. DLR Group, a design firm from Seattle, will oversee early design work and site selection in conjunction with the Anchorage management company RISE Alaska. RISE will be conducting the open house, and Borough and Correctional staff will be attending.

Final sites are expected to be announced in late October. More site specific public meetings are planned in November. That same month the preferred site is expected to be identified. The Borough Planning Commission will be the first to consider the site, possibly in November. The Assembly could consider the site in January. The final site requires Assembly approval.

Construction is expected to begin next spring and could be completed by 2010.

Alaska prisons are severely overcrowded. About 1,000 Alaska prisoners are presently incarcerated in Arizona and sometimes flown back and forth for court dates. Commissioner of the Dept. of Corrections Marc Antrim said $20 million goes to Arizona each year to cover prisoner costs.

For more information on site selection, contact Community Development Director Ron Swanson at (907) 745-9868. For questions on project management, contact AHFC's Sherrie Simmonds at (907) 330-8447.