Allegany Choices

January 26, 1991

State efforts to build a new minimum-medium prison complex in Allegany County are moving forward. The county sent Bishop Robinson, secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services, a list of four available construction sites. Yet while the state may appear to have surmounted major delays, uncharted political trails remain to be crossed.

The sites must fit the specifications of state construction engineers. The property owners must be willing to sell based on accepted, independent appraised values. Local citizens -- including potential neighbors of a chosen prison site -- must be reasonably receptive. And environmental interests will want assurances that a prison will not damage earth or air.

Allegany County has many economic incentives riding on finding an acceptable site. The construction of the prison would provide an immediate boost to one of Maryland's highest pockets of unemployment. Retail and supplier sales should increase substantially, as would the number of construction jobs.

But the greatest boost from the state's prison plan would be the 1,000 new jobs it would provide an area hobbled by a 9.2 percent unemployment rate. The three newly elected county commissioners are working to assist the state, as are others eager to ease jobless pressures. Local officials claim the new facility would pump an additional $100 million into the Western Maryland economy.

The state has to move quickly on its prison plans to ease pressure in its overcrowded penal system. Those who might be inclined to protest the prison site ought to think about the consequences if the state decides to locate the prison elsewhere. That would be another blow to the Cumberland area, which badly needs an economic stimulus. It would not, though, give the region an immediate shot in the arm: construction is not scheduled to start until 1993. Still, Allegany County would be foolish to let this employment booster slip away.

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