November 25, 2009
By Janet DelTufo, Assistant Editor
As residents continue writing to The Wickenburg Sun regarding the possibility of a medium-security prison being built in Forepaugh, The Sun explores individual opinions on this controversial issue. Last week The Sun featured the positive opinions of several residents; this week those who are not in favor of the prison project are interviewed.
It was reported recently that a number of Wickenburg officials toured a prison facility in Eloy, which is owned and operated by a corporation that has shown interest in building a correctional facility in Forepaugh. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison operator in the United States, hosted members from the town’s Economic Development Partnership, Mayor Kelly Blunt, Vice Mayor John Cook, Councilman Scott Stewart and other community leaders at one of its Pinal County facilities.
CCA is hoping to win a bid from the Arizona Department of Corrections to house 5,000 inmates, and is interested in 78-acres of town-owned property located in Forepaugh. CCA officials said they would start with a correctional facility that would house 2,400 medium-security inmates.
Lon Brown, a manager at Benner Nawman, a member of the economic partnership and a property owner west of Forepaugh was one of the people on the tour of the Eloy facility and is against a prison being built in Forepaugh.
“I live between Forepaugh and Aguila, and building a prison would radically change Forepaugh,” Brown said. “I am not against the proposed rail park project, but a prison would lead to an entirely different atmosphere in this area.”
Brown said he has heard that a prison could possibly increase the value of his property.
“But that is not why I moved out here,” Brown said. “I just don’t see a prison adding any quality of western life to those of us in this area.”
Real Estate agent Jim Hartman is also on the economic partnership, and he is also against the idea of building a prison in Forepaugh.
Hartman said he does not think that building a prison would be the highest and best use for that industrial-zoned property.
“That is town-owned property, and it has unique zoning that is very hard to obtain in Maricopa County,” Hartman said. “It should be no secret to any of the residents in that area that this is industrial zoning, but we should be looking at industries such as solar and other clean projects that meet today’s new environmental standards.”
Hartman said the town has just scratched the surface as far as looking into uses for that property, and that the town has a chance to find itself a source of significant cash flow.
“I know that getting new jobs is very important, and from what I hear, the prison starts off at a very nice wage,” Hartman said. “However, a flow from a monthly lease on that acreage would be a good thing.”
Town Magistrate Donna Henry is not on the economic partnership, but does live in the immediate vicinity of the property proposed for the prison.
She said she has lived there for 25 years, and she has many concerns regarding the current environmental conditions at the property.
“One of my biggest problems with this proposal is that there was once a mining project on that property, and there is a cyanide pit there where 55-gallon drums once oozed,” Henry said. “I have never seen any hazmat people there, and I once had a dog that licked his paw after being on the property and then died. So, I have a problem with putting people out there.”
Henry also has concerns about water and sewage, saying the infrastructure in the area -- including that of Arizona Public Service (APS) -- is simply not adequate.
“We lose power about eight times a year,” she said. “The prison might have a back-up generator, but what is going to happen to 3,000 inmates out there without power in the middle of the summer?”
Henry spoke of the number of potential jobs for the area, but said that there is no guarantee that local residents will get those jobs.
“I have a friend in Tonopah and she said when a correctional facility was built there, everyone car-pooled from Phoenix,” Henry said. “There is training and selection process, and you have to be certified to work at a prison.”
Henry said she was also worried that inmate families would end up moving to the area, causing hardship on the system. She said the impact of these families moving to the area would be quite significant.
She said she moved to Forepaugh to be away from everything, and that she likes her night sky and lack of traffic. She said the town can earn money on that property without leasing it to a prison.
“If the town wants to make money, it should have APS build a substation or get some cellular towers out there,” she said. “This would generate revenue, and this is what the town says it wants.”