Reversing a decision made two weeks earlier, the Idaho Board of Corrections voted to build a $10 million, 160-bed women's prison complex on 120 acres of city-owned land on Pocatello's southwest side.
"It's been an extremely frustrating process finding a site, so we're glad it's over," board Chairman Wendell Miller of Idaho Falls said Friday.After touring three possible locations, the three-member board decided to drop its Jan. 11 decision to put the prison on a 160-acre parcel of state-owned land south of Boise in favor of Pocatello.
And if a 30-day evaluation by the Arizona-based proj-ect manager and the state Division of Public Works finds problems that would bar construction at the Cusick Creek site, the board said it would turn its attention to a 300-acre parcel just north of there, then to a site on Pocatello's east side near the new Idaho Veteran's Home now under construction.
Both are on private land.
"I wish we had been shown these sites earlier," Miller said.
City officials were delighted by the action, which came after Gov. Cecil Andrus and Pocatello-area legislators pressured the Board of Correction to back away from the decision to build near Boise.
"It feels great," Mayor Peter Angstadt said. "I'm extremely pleased with the decision and now believe we can get to work to make the whole thing fall into place."
Construction is expected to start this summer and be complete in about a year.
Corrections officials said last month that they would recommend building the prison in Pocatello if local officials could come up with a suitable site. But problems with air quality, topography and neighborhood opposition at some of the sites, plus the threat of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union over inmates' rights, convinced the board to look elsewhere.
An ACLU lawyer said Tuesday that her organization would not oppose Pocatello as a site for the prison, which is expected to create about 90 jobs and about $2 million in annual payroll.
"I'm pleased that they have resolved that and that Pocatello will be the site," Andrus said. "This is an infusion of about $10 million in construction money over the next two years, and the economy will have another employment base after that. That does what we have been trying to do, to spread the economic development throughout the state of Idaho."
Corrections officials said they were assured by legislators and Andrus after the Jan. 11 vote that funding would be available for the prison, so no deadline need be set for picking a location.
"I don't see any reason or concern that this money will not be available because we don't have any choice," Andrus said. "We've got to build a facility. The courts tell us this, and the needs tell us this."
Accompanying Miller on Friday's tour were Board of Corrections members Nick Miller of Boise and Phil Presnell of Lewiston, as well as Corrections Director Richard Vernon, Deputy Director Mel Johnson and Public Works Director Anne Barker.
Vernon said Friday that Pocatello had always been his first choice, and that building the facility outside Boise fit into his long-range plans for decentralizing the state's prison system.