EVANSTON — There were several items on the agenda for the Uinta County Commissioners at their regular meeting on Tuesday, June 5; however, the topic on the ICE detention center dominated the discussion.
The group WyoSayNo was on the agenda to discuss their objections to the proposed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center for Uinta County, although many local residents turned up to voice their support for the proposal as well.
Kortney Clark with WyoSayNo said she was speaking as a former teacher and a mother, and read a statement saying she believed the ICE prison would bring short-term economic benefits but have a long-term negative impact for the community. Clark said she had a list of questions for the commissioners that she believes have not been adequately answered.
Uinta County Commissioner Craig Welling said the commissioners had recently visited two facilities run by Management and Training Corporation (MTC, the company behind the proposal), one in California and one in New Mexico, and objected to the use of the term “prison” to describe them. Clark said the use of the term was appropriate because the people in them are locked up and held against their will, but Welling maintained there was a difference between a prison and a detention center.
Clark continued to ask questions of the commissioners, including about the level of oversight and whether an environmental impact study (EIS) would be completed given the proposed site next to the Bear River State Park. When asked the question about the EIS, commissioner Eric South said, “We hope not.”
Welling said he wanted to explain that he had attended a community meeting hosted by WyoSayNo previously and his visits to the two MTC-run facilities had painted a very different picture than that portrayed at the community meeting.
“The information I received when visiting the facilities was very different than the erroneous information given at that meeting at the Beeman-Cashin,” he said. “That information was very flawed.”
Welling said they were allowed to mingle and interact with people while visiting and that “it was a good experience.”
Clark asked about promises made by MTC about tax revenues for the county, and Welling said there had been no such promises made by anyone. He also said the county will not be held financially liable in any way should the project move forward.
“I think folks may believe this is a bit further down the road than it is,” Welling said. “The RFP’s (requests for proposals) haven’t even happened yet.”
He assured Clark that if the project were to move forward, there would be community hearings and opportunities for citizens to ask questions to all parties involved, including representatives from MTC.
Welling also stressed that those being held in the facilities were not all Latino but were from all over the world.
Many local residents spoke in favor of the facility and voiced their beliefs that it would bring much-needed jobs to the area and they said opposition was grounded in politics.
Jim Hissong said he attended the meeting for other reasons but felt compelled to speak after repeatedly hearing claims that locking up detainees is immoral. Hissong objected to that labeling and said, “It’s a sad commentary to resort to that when there’s just a difference of opinion.”
Uinta County Clerk Amanda Hutchinson read from a letter sent to her by Evanston resident Brent Sanders, who was unable to attend the meeting. In that letter Sanders said he feels the argument over immigration policy should be done elsewhere and not fought at the county level. He said he believes the venture will bring jobs and growth in the tax base, and that those who are opposed have offered no alternatives to bring in similar growth.
Evanston realtor Tib Ottley spoke and said he had gone along with the commissioners to visit one facility in New Mexico to see conditions for himself and determine if the concerns of those opposed were valid.
“I didn’t go down there to change anyone’s mind,” he said. “I went down there to change my mind, and that didn’t happen. It didn’t come across that they had spiffed things up for our visit.” He said he remains in favor of the proposal after his visit.
Other speakers said similar concerns over burdens on the community were prevalent before the first oil boom, but the citizens of Evanston had risen up and made things work, and they were confident the community could rise to the challenge again and welcome the facility and the jobs it would bring.
“No new employer comes in without impact,” long-time area resident Mike Pexton said. “Aren’t we smart enough to figure it out? Aren’t we capable of solving the issues?”
Following all of the public comments, commissioner Eric South said it had been a good discussion. “We don’t know when this could happen or even if it will,” South said, “but we’ll continue to do our jobs and be diligent moving forward.”
Pictured: Tib Ottley speaks at the Uinta County Commissioners meeting Tuesday, June 5. Ottley went along on a recent visit to a New Mexico ICE detention center and said he supports the proposal to construct a facility in Uinta County. HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire