Friday, January 15, 1999

Mainland firm asks to
build Big Isle prison

By Rod Thompson


HILO -- National Corrections Corporation of South Carolina is proposing to build a 2,236-inmate prison for the state at Glenwood south of Hilo, the company announced.

The proposal would provide an alternative to the state's previously announced choice of a 320-acre site at the midpoint of Stainback Highway, the road that leads to the existing 210-inmate Kulani prison at a mile-high elevation on the side of Mauna Loa.

Hilo Representative Eric Hamakawa, who also represents the Glenwood area, said he was given a three-page synopsis of the proposal at the beginning of the year.

Hamakawa said he doesn't have enough information to form an opinion on its merits.

But Kama Higa, a resident of Orchid Isle Estates subdivision at Glenwood, says she and her neighbors oppose the facility, which would be built on about 200 acres owned by the Flagg family and formerly occupied by the Koi tomato farm.

A National Corrections Corporation statement issued yesterday said the company would design, build, and finance the prison.

Company spokesman Jim Boersema said it would be premature to discuss other details, but the proposal apparently does not foresee the company operating it.

The cost of the project, as described in the proposal to Hamakawa, is put at $149.5 million, $50 million less than the expected $200 million price tag for the Stainback site.

Additional savings would come in operations, the proposal says.

In contrast, state Budget Director Earl Anzai, apparently referring only to the Stainback site, has said that state construction would be cheaper than a private project.

Despite its "highway" name, Stainback is a badly paved country road and would require reconstruction for a prison.

The Glenwood site, off wide, well-paved Volcano Highway, would save on those costs.

The Stainback site also has no developed water source.

The Glenwood site already has one well and another is planned, the proposal says.

Some of the savings are not as clear. A Glenwood prison would cost $53 per day per inmate to operate, the proposal says.

Sen. Andy Levin, whose district includes Glenwood, has said the state is now paying $45 to $50 per day to house inmates in mainland prisons.

Co-chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Levin has said he opposes a request from Gov. Ben Cayetano for $130 million for prison construction.

Staffing of a Glenwood prison has been reviewed with the UPW and ILWU unions, the proposal said.

Time needed to approve, build, and open the prison would be 29-32 months, putting opening at about July 2001, the proposal says.

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