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Folsom eyed for inmate health center; could bring 1,600 jobs

By: Roger Phelps, The Telegraph
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Nearly 80 acres of state-owned land along the American River in Folsom is earmarked for construction of a 775,000-square-foot prison medical facility. In California’s inmate-health crisis, the prison system operates under a federal receivership imposed by court order after an inmate class-action suit charged inhumane conditions. The receiver’s office this month announced it will prepare environmental documents for a medical and psychiatric treatment complex in Folsom that would house 1,400 inmates from around the state, employ 1,600 people and pose issues around possible erosion, drainage and storm runoff to the American River. “It would be up near the new road and bridge (Folsom Lake Crossing),” said receiver’s office spokesman Richard Stapler. “It might be visible from the road across the bridge.” Public comment will be heard by project officials from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Folsom Community Center, 52 Natoma St. next to City Hall. The proposed project, with its sizable number of jobs, has the attention of local business leaders. “People from the receiver’s office are coming to our October luncheon,” said Sue Field at the Folsom Chamber of Commerce. The medical complex would use water from an existing allocation serving the two local prisons, Stapler said. “They are well under their usage ceilings,” he said. Even if water is covered, the coming Environmental Impact Report must address a host of other effects of the project on its surroundings. At least technically, a “no-project” option could be selected after study. However, Folsom is on the shortest list of candidates for siting one of seven planned inmate medical complexes, Stapler said. Environmental documentation has begun on only three sites statewide, and Folsom is one of them. “Construction vehicles would access the site from Folsom Lake Crossing, planned for completion in spring of 2009,” a preliminary environmental document states. Stapler said it appears “likely” that the Folsom Lake Crossing access route would see construction vehicles traveling U.S. Highway 50 to Folsom Boulevard to Folsom-Auburn Road to the bridge road, rather than on Natoma Street. Some of the approximately 75 acres in the project tract would be used as staging area for vehicles, which would remain on-site for the duration of work, Stapler said. For a total of seven new facilities statewide, designs aren’t finished so costs aren’t estimated, but to build and equip them likely will run into the billions of dollars, Stapler said. Resident Marsha Warner said adding 1,600 jobs to the local economy sounds good, but upping government-funded health care for inmates at a time when U.S. citizens as a whole have no national health plan sounds a little off. Warner acknowledged she was unfamiliar with the court finding of inhumane medical conditions in California prisons. “Jobs will help,” Warner said. “But health care for the general population is so bad, it doesn’t make sense. Of course, inhumanity is shocking. But, something has to change overall.” Planners will have to analyze environmental effects of a high-voltage electric fence proposed to ring the medical complex probably cannot be mitigated 100 percent, according to Stapler. “The proposed project would be surrounded by a lethal electric fence,” environmental documents state. “Animal mortalities can occur as a result of the e-fence.” Stapler said barriers would be erected outside the lethal fence to keep off most wildlife. “Maybe some small squirrels or birds (would be killed),” he said. Possibly referring to artifacts from Nisenan tribespeople who lived along the American River, environmental documents state that “cultural resources” must be taken into account in the project area. “The proposed project is located in an area that has a high potential for the occurrence of previously discovered and unknown cultural and historical resources,” documentation states. “While the site has been previously disturbed, the EIR will analyze the project’s potential to adversely affect cultural resources, including historic resources.” Permits for the project could be required by as many as 13 agencies, ranging from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the city of Folsom. Written comment will also be taken by project officials until 5 p.m. Oct. 15. A mailing address is California Prison Health Care Receivership, 2400 Del Paso Road, Sacramento, Ca. 95834. The Telegraph’s Roger Phelps can be reached at rogerp@goldcountrymedia.com, or post a comment at folsomtelegraph.com === Just the Stats • 775,000 sq. ft. facility • Could employ 1,600 • Serve 1,400 inmates • One of three sites in state moving forward.