Congressman Stupak discusses Gitmo with city, county, township leaders
Leaders’ consensus is California first, Gitmo second
STANDISH — First District Congressman Bart Stupak (D – Menominee) shared information on the potential Guantanamo Bay transfer to the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility (SMF) with several local officials and members of Michigan’s legislation in Standish on Friday morning, but many details are still unavailable.
First, Stupak says, there’s been no official proposal on using Standish Max from the Obama Administration yet.
“Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, was the one who first came to me (about using Standish as a Federal detention center)… He said ‘What do you think?’” Stupak said, adding he told the administration he would like to see a proposal on using Standish as a replacement for the Naval Detention Center in Cuba. “They (Administration) told me they won’t send a proposal until they’ve seen the place.
“In the next week or two, I suspect a group will be in here,” he added. “They want to do it sooner than later.”
Questions posed by local leaders covered a spectrum of issues, one being if current personnel of the prison would still be employed if the federal government took control of SMF.
Stupak said that would depend on whether or not the prison was a facility of the Bureau of Prisons or the Department of Defense (DOD).
“From what they’re telling us, it looks like it’s going to be a Department of Defense facility,” he said.
According to Stupak, if this were the case, the guard positions would likely be filled by military police, although, he added that several of the new positions that would be necessary to create in the facility, which would serve as both a federal courtroom and detention center, could possibly be filled by existing prison personnel.
But the fact that current employees, many residents of Standish, would be displaced, led to a consensus from the elected officials in Arenac County that they’d prefer to house California inmates, or inmates from other states looking at housing prisoners in Standish, over Guantanamo Bay detainees.
“We (Lincoln Township) would be leaning towards the California prisoners first and to keep this on the backburner,” said Lincoln Township Supervisor Dave Hertzberg.
“While we appreciate what you guys (Congressman Stupak’s office) are doing, California is our first option,” added District V County Commissioner Joseph Sancimino. “If we have the DOD come in, it changes everything.”
Sancimino explained his comments; saying with Gitmo detainees would come helicopters, crowds and traffic jams.
Stupak said, though, that with Gitmo detainees would also come an increased population. He estimated about 500 families would come to the area if Guantanamo, slated to close by Jan. 22, 2010, were relocated to Standish, which the Congressman says is one of only three facilities being looked at as a new detention center for federal prisoners.
Bob Woolever, AuGres City Council, raised the point that the federal government would come with cash, but cash-strapped California would come with I.O.U.’s (like the ones issued to residents of the state for tax returns) but State Rep. Tim Moore (R – Farwell) said a meeting with Michigan Department of Correction Director Patricia Caruso addressed the I.O.U. problem in California.
“Director Caruso pointed out that there’s some federal statute that states have to pay for their inmates before anything else,” Moore said.
Moore also said California officials are supposed to present a proposal to the Michigan Department of Corrections officials within the next week.
SMF Correction Officer Paul Piche asked Stupak if both state and federal inmates could be housed in SMF, pointing out that there is a protective custody unit in SMF that is currently empty, but Stupak said Congress won’t co-mingle federal and state prisoners.
Stupak also touched on things being said about how dangerous it would be to detain suspected terrorists on U.S. soil.
“There are 215 international terrorists being held in U.S. prisons right now,” Stupak said, adding 127 domestic terrorists are also housed in the continental U.S. “Most of them are held in a maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado.
“Bringing these detainees to U.S. soil is nothing new.”
Sen. Jim Barcia (D – Bay City) approached the podium at the meeting, which was held in the Resurrection of the Lord Catholic Church dining room, to raise the issue of whether or not current SMF Correctional Officers could receive training to be licensed as federal corrections officers, in order to keep their homes off the sales block if they have to move due to a job transfer.
“It (home) could be sitting on the market for two to three years,” Barcia said.
The State Senator also inquired about how long the facility, if it were housing Gitmo detainees, would remain open.
“I think it’s probably here 50, 60 years, maybe even a lifetime,” Stupak said. “About 150 of them will never be released.”
District III County Commissioner Mike Snyder asked about the need to grow the facility, including new and expanded buildings on the prison grounds, and wanted to know if those jobs would be done in-house or contractually.
Stupak says discussions with the administration have yet to give details on this issue, but that it matters exactly what agency controls the prison if it converts to federal.
“They (Administration) told us there’d be a lot of construction, we said ‘Well, what’s a lot of construction?’” he said. “If it’s Department of Defense, it’ll (construction) be more contractual. If it’s Bureau of Prisons, it’ll be more in-house.”
Stupak also noted on the importance to the city of Standish to keep the prison open, since it makes up 45-percent of the city’s water and sewer revenue, paying about $400,000 per year for those utilities.
He also added if Guantanamo detainees were transferred to SMF, another road could be built on prison grounds.