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County hopes for state prison, again

Douglas County officials two decades ago had a goal: to get a state-operated prison built in Parkland immediately south of Superior.

Superior Days delegates lobbied in Madison. A local task force looked at the possible impacts. The Douglas County Extension Office surveyed counties that had state prisons to weigh the consequences against a potential 400 jobs. The City of Superior annexed the Parkland land to build infrastructure that would be needed.

County officials even put it to a vote. Nearly 72 percent of Douglas County voters favored building a state-operated prison here in 1999.

In the end, a 1,500-bed, privately-built prison in Stanley became the state-operated facility Douglas County officials had hoped would be built here.

While the issue has lain dormant for more than a decade and a half, Douglas County Supervisor Larry Quam suggested this week the issue may not be dead after all.

"I talked to the new secretary of the Bureau of Corrections," Quam said. "And I asked him if Superior is still on the radar for a state prison. He stated he was at every Superior Days when we were dealing with it" in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Quam said the state is looking at building at least two more prisons to replace costly, aging facilities.

As part of the current state budget adopted in early fall, Gov. Scott Walker included a provision for the creation of committee to study long-range facility needs for the Department of Corrections and present a plan to the governor.

Corrections department data available online shows thousands more inmates incarcerated than the state's adult facilities were designed to hold. Wisconsin's prisons have a design capacity of 16,560, but the total population last week was 23,132.

Several legislators have put forth requests to serve on the committee, which has not yet been appointed.

Quam asked members of the Executive Committee on Monday if they would be in favor of including a state prison as a Superior Days issue or if the idea should be presented to the full County Board.

With the Superior Days delegation meeting for planning purposes next week, Supervisor Keith Allen made a motion to bring the idea forward to the delegation as a possible issue to consider for the annual lobbying effort Feb. 20-21 in Madison.

The Executive Committee, made up of chairpersons of various county committees, approved the motion.

Two planning sessions for the 33rd annual Superior Days take place Monday. At noon, delegates gather at the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College campuses in Superior and Ashland with a video link, or residents can meet at 6 p.m. in Room 270 of the Government Center, 1316 N. 14th St. A $10 optional lunch is available at the noon session.

For information on the lobbying effort, go to superiordays.com.

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