State DOC begins discussing proposal with townspeople
By Scott Bellile
Town of Hortonia property owners said at a meeting March 19 they have no interest in the state Department of Corrections pursuing a juvenile correctional facility in the community.
Shannon Carpenter, assistant deputy secretary for the DOC, listened to residents’ concerns and said the department will schedule another town meeting in April to present more information on the proposal.
“We want to be talking to the families and the people here about what exactly the plan is,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter told the crowd the project is “not a prison,” but a correctional facility that would be run similar to a school.
This view did not ease residents’ and landowners’ concerns, however.
“When you have high-risk inmates in a low-security prison situation, I see the negative impact of that,” Tim Manion said. “I see the impact of drugs. I see the negative influence of people coming to visit those people. And most of all the depreciation value of our real estate. So why would we want to encourage this kind of growth when we want to encourage perhaps new homeowners, new businesses that thrive, where people actually relocate here?”
One business owner, Holly Boettcher of Whistler’s Knoll Vineyard, said the proposal does not respect the years of work Hortonia’s planning commission has put into making sure new development fits the town’s zoning codes.
Residents predicted the 70 workers staffing the facility would commute from out of town rather than live in Hortonia.
“That does nothing for our local economy and yet it’s being touted as something positive,” Jim Sykes said.
The Fox Valley along U.S. Highway 41 has better accommodations for a facility, Sykes said.
“Why would it be logical to go to the town of Hortonia?” Sykes asked. “The only reason that I can see is that probably there is very little resistance. And it’s unfortunate, but that’s poor government.”
Hortonia Town Clerk Lyn Neuenfeldt said the state did not consult town officials on the matter. She also believes the area was underrepresented on the state committee that chose site options, the only local member being Outagamie County District Attorney Melinda Tempelis.
Neuenfeldt added the closest public input meeting held on the matter was in Green Bay on the day of a primary election, Tuesday Aug. 14, at 9:30 a.m.
“To me that sounds like a date that was purposely set up to avoid having public input,” she said.
Residents were also concerned about the environmental impacts the construction of a juvenile correctional facility could have on Hortonia’s marshland.
“This entire community enjoys the outdoors and this Wolf River bottom and this wildlife corridor that feeds and distributes animal life throughout Hortonia is critically important,” Manion said. “If it’s cut off by industrial or prison development, not only is it going to impact walleye fishing and duck hunting and deer hunting but it’s going to disperse the actual wildlife natural movement of things. And that’s a part of the reason that we live out here.”
Wayne Montgomery called the river “a lifeblood for this community” and also questioned how construction could impact a nesting pair of eagles in the area.
Announced by Gov. Tony Evers March 12, the proposed facility would be located on state Department of Transportation-owned land south of the Frick Ford auto dealership and house 30 to 40 children.