NANTICOKE – During a public hearing held Oct. 17 in Nanticoke High School, on the proposed closure of SCI-Retreat in Newport Township, Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20th, offered the following testimony:
“The announcement of the pending closure of SCI Retreat set off alarms across our region and motivated a wide range of people to register their opposition. While we all realize the incarcerated population is steadily declining, and laws are being passed and policies adopted to continue that trend, we also know there are many correctional institutions across the state. So there is disappointment that ours has been selected, particularly as the announcement came in conjunction with the intention to close White Haven Center. That compounds the community and economic disruptions.
While we have strenuously voiced objections to this plan in various forums, there remain pivotal questions for which committed responses are required.
There are naturally concerns relating to community safety and economic implications. If this decision is truly irreversible, as the state attitude signals, what does state government offer in the way of guarantees to lessen the impact on those directly affected?
What is the disposition of the special care prisoners in the facility? We have always been told there were unique services provided here. So where will the new placements be, and how much cost will be incurred in augmenting and upgrading whatever currently exists in these new locations?
How realistic or disruptive are the reassignment options for the employees? Do they have negotiating room, or are they given take-it-leave-it propositions?
What is the ripple effect across local law enforcement and emergency response, which are structured and funded in part to reflect what is needed in the neighborhood of a state correctional institution?
Based on the reasons the department has offered to explain closure, it appears this is not a facility that will be easily or cheaply repurposed. That is a significant impact for the local economy. The jobs removed from the area are the most visible loss, but there is also the effect on businesses that will have to replace the contracts for goods and services. Are there any preliminary or promising discussions about reuse of the property, either as another state government operation or as a private acquisition?
There is word that the bridge providing access to the facility needs costly work done. Is that part of the plan?
There are several key pieces of infrastructure for which the community incurred costs and took on debt to help out with Commonwealth needs. The first is the sewer system and the second is the natural gas connection recently installed at a cost of more than $1 million to the state. These are long term arrangements entered into in good faith. It would be irresponsible and unacceptable for the Commonwealth to short its obligations. We want to see local jurisdictions made whole, so that higher taxes are not the price for state abandonment of Retreat.
Those accustomed to dealing with big numbers in the state budget – billions and billions – can overlook what havoc can be wreaked on a municipal or authority budget by a major dislocation. At current rates, the Shickshinny Sewer Authority struggles with a 30% delinquency rate. Pile a big rate increase on what exists, and delinquencies will rise. That will imperil operations, and make paying off the existing $1.1 million loan even more difficult paying off the loan.
As I understand it, without the prison, the authority is left with an inflow of just 200,000 gallons a day, down from its current rate of 450,000. The engineers and operators fear major issues in trying to make the plant operational at that level. In fact, they are not even sure it can be accomplished. What will be done for the community if the facility cannot operate?
For the residents of the area, all they see thus far are the considerable downsides of your closure decision. They, and we, are waiting for the proof that this is a setback and not a body blow to the health and safety of the community and, most important, not a foreclosure on the future.”
Andrew M. Seder