Sunday, September 21, 2008

Prison for Rachel: Bring it On!

An article in the 9/18 Las Vegas Sun reiterates Rachel residents' opposition to a proposed prison in their valley.

The Lincoln County Planning Commission has approved a permit for a prison near the town that has earned pop culture cachet for claims of alien sightings and its proximity to Area 51, the government testing facility long shrouded in secrecy.

The county limited the private prison to 1,500 beds, although developer Jim Toreson had asked for 2,000. Toreson will have to pay for infrastructure improvements including roads, and water and electric lines to the 100-acre site four miles from Rachel.
After lurking on the sidelines and carefully considering the pros and cons, this blog has finally decided to take a stand on the proposed prison. Now what do you suppose our stand should be?

Let's do the math. The Little A'Le'Inn opposes the prison. All of the Rachel residents who talked to the newspaper oppose the prison. The entire on-line community of Area 51 watchers seems to oppose the prison.

Add it all up, and it's a no-brainer: This blog SUPPORTS the building of a prison near Rachel, Nevada!

Alas, this is little more than empty jabbering on both sides, since the prison doesn't have an ice cube's chance in Hell of actually being built.

Quoting from the article...
Toreson plans to build the prison and find a company to operate it. He expects the state to house overflow inmates there.
In other words, Toreson's got nothing solid behind him. This is like you saying, "I'm going to make a major motion picture," so you approach your local Town Council to ask permission to film your movie there. The Town Council says, "Sure, why not?" but that doesn't mean you have the FUNDING to make the movie or the MARKET for the movie once it is made. Without funding or a market, no commercial project is going anywhere.

Right now, Old Man Toreson doesn't appear to have anything more than a worthless hunk of land, some big talk and maybe a little bit of naive seed money. Where, specifically, is Toreson going to get (a) the company to run the prison, and (b) the prisoners?

A little known factoid about Lincoln County is that it already had a for-profit prison. The facility was actually built in the early 1990s on the outskirts of Pioche -- and it failed. The idea was for the Lincoln County Sheriff to run the prison, while a for-profit company would fund it and supply the prisoners, supposedly based on overflow from Las Vegas and elsewhere. The derelict building is probably still there if anyone cares to open a new private prison on the cheap.

What's so special about Toreson's project that it's going to succeed where the previous one failed? If a bona fide private prison operator decided they absolutely needed to open a facility in Lincoln County, wouldn't they look at the existing building in Pioche first?

The mantra of real estate is "location, location, location," and in Rachel the location truly sucks -- even for a prison. There's no existing pool of labor, no local services and huge transportation costs. The only thing Toreson has in his favor is cheap land, nothing more.

Yes, Nevada's prisons are severely overcrowded, but that's a function of funding, not facilities. The state already has an underutilized prison in Jean, 30 minutes south of Las Vegas. Why would the cash-strapped state turn over some of its prisoners to Toreson at a presumably higher price than housing them itself?

Real private prison operators are different than Toreson. They look for governmental opportunities around the county, bid for a contract, then build a facility to suit. They are going to judiciously choose a location that best meets their needs. Toreson is working from the other direction. He's got this empty land he's desperate to do something with -- this white elephant he is already chained to -- so he's dreaming up fantasy options with no grounding in the marketplace.

But let's say the prison turned out to be a viable option and actually got built, what's the damage to Rachel? Sure, there may be more light pollution in a distant part of the Sand Spring Valley, but its a BIG valley and if you want more darkness, you can always go to the next valley -- or the next or the next. From an economic standpoint, the choice is between upsetting a handful of UFO and aviation watchers who contribute next to nothing to the local economy and having some real jobs and real economic stability in town. The A'Le'Inn could probably increase its business many fold if a prison (and the construction crews building it) actually came to town.

If you think of prisons as being a "dirty" industry, compare them to the alternatives. Why does Rachel and nearly every other town in the Nevada outback exist? Mining. Now there's a dirty industry, devastating the landscaping and usually contributing only briefly to the economy. There was never any opposition in Rachel to the potential reopening of the nearby Tempiute Mine. How is that better than a prison? Prisons don't pollute, and once one is established it is usually sustainable, since the supply of prisoners is never going to run out. Isn't this better than the boom-and-bust cycle that made and broke Rachel?

This knee-jerk opposition to a hypothetical business proposal just reinforces Lincoln County's reputation for opposing and disabling economic development wherever it threatens to emerge. It seems county residents WANT to be impoverished. They want to preserve their open desert and their "rural way of life," but they can't fathom that there's plenty of emptiness and ruralness out there and it's never going to be used up.

Back in the mid-1990s, a small film production company approached the Lincoln County Commission about using the old Lincoln County Courthouse to shoot a small-budget TV movie. The commission hemmed and hawed, demanded more information and more assurances and delayed approval for months. One commissioner even wanted approval authority over the script. Eventually, the production company gave up and withdrew its request.

It would have been easy money for the county and its businesses, but that's not what local residents seem to want.

They prefer hard money.

Posted from Las Vegas

No comments:

Post a Comment