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BOP visit Berlin, with an update

July 07, 2010
BERLIN — Representatives from the federal Bureau of Prisons were in town on Wednesday to update the community on the progress of the prison project and what to expect when it goes online.

Federal staff in charge of activation, education, financing and budgeting, facilities management and general operations met with economic development personnel, political leaders, nonprofit executives and others from around the North Country at White Mountains Community College to answer whatever questions they could.

The discussion ranged from what type of education courses the facility will offer inmates to what services the prison workforce will need.

One of the goals of the meeting was to quash rumors about the prison, including speculation the prison is never going to open.

"The Berlin beds are needed and activation will continue," said Tammi Sanderhoff, comptroller for the BOP.

FCI Berlin, as it is officially named, is one of two federal facilities slated to come online in 2011, she said.

She was unwilling to give a definitive date for when the prison will be fully operational, but she said it is moving forward.

The limiting factor is how long it takes to interconnect to the city's sewer system, she said; full activation can't start until that work is completed.

The city of Berlin won the federal contract to do the interconnection.

"I believe they're highly motivated," Mrs. Sanderhoff said.

Work on the line began this spring. City manager Pat MacQueen said estimates are it will take until July or August 2011 to complete.

Federal staff answered questions from social service personnel about what sort of influx the region might see, in addition to prison staff. Will inmates' families be moving to the area? people asked.

"I haven't seen a lot of that," said Carla Wilson, BOP executive assistant, but it isn't something the BOP tracks.

Correctional service administrator Rick Harnes said the inmates will be from within 500 miles of Berlin, so the prison provides steady business to hotels. It isn't common for families to move to area, he said.

And what about release, city welfare administrator Angela Martin-Giroux asked; are inmates let out in Berlin or do they go back home?

Most releases go through halfway houses, Mrs. Wilson said. "We don't just put them out on a corner."

And they usually occur within the sentencing district, Mrs. Sanderhoff said, so it shouldn't be a problem for Berlin.

The prison will, however, be contracting for services, she said, which will benefit the city.

Most of the facilities work, like plumbing, electrical, landscaping, etc., the prison does themselves, said Chip Moran, BOP facilities administrator.

"We have the workforce," he said, referring to the inmates. "The goal is to keep them busy everyday."

But they will be buying goods, he said, and anyone interested in doing business with the BOP should visit fedbizopps.gov.

Education services and health-care services, however, will need to be done by outside agencies, Mrs. Sanderhoff said, and even if large out-of-state companies win the contracts they will likely tap local service providers to do the work. The local community will win out, she said.

Max Makaitis, Androscoggin Valley economic development director, said there is an effort underway to tie all five northern chambers of commerce together to maximize the facility's benefit on the entire North Country.

The BOP staff said its important to get all the information online that someone might need if they're moving from across the country. Schools, Mrs. Sanderhoff said, are the primary concern.

People will moving into your community, she said, but it then becomes their community too. "The BOP are very good neighbors."

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