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What town wants a new prison in their backyard? Not Fremont

'It's just going to add more baggage to the work that we have to get done here in order to make this place an attractive place'
Posted at 7:07 PM, Feb 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-07 20:07:55-05

FREMONT, Neb. (KMTV) — At Thursday's appropriation committee hearing, Nebraska State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln asked Nebraska Department of Corrections Director Scott Frakes about a rumored Fremont location for the new prison the state wants to build.

"Can't confirm or deny," Frakes responded.

The Department of Corrections is keeping specifics on six possible sites for a new state prison close to the chest. But it has shared that it's considering six sites in Douglas, Lancaster and Dodge counties. Fremont, by far, is Dodge County's largest city.

The state is currently in the process of seeking funding, $270 million, for a new prison to replace Lincoln's Nebraska State Penitentiary.

NDCS is working with a commercial real estate group to identify potential sites, Corrections Chief of Staff Laura Strimple said in an email to 3 News Now.

"As that process continues, some sites may be eliminated and others added to the list for exploration," Strimple said. "This process is still in very preliminary stages. To protect the integrity of any agreements that may be entered into with property owners, we are not providing additional information or comment on where sites have been identified."

Frakes said an option is close to being secured at one property. That means that property owners have agreed to a deal if the property is selected for a new prison.

But officials in Fremont say they don't want a new prison nearby.

Mayor Joey Spellerberg said he got a call from Frakes around the time the Department of Corrections announced Dodge County was home to one possible site for a new prison.

"I called him back, and made it very clear, that under no circumstances does this new prison need to be in Fremont, Dodge County and the surrounding area," Spellerberg said. "This really needs to be in Lincoln or Omaha."

The Greater Fremont Development Council also said it's not interested.

"It was a surprise to us," said the organization's executive director, Megan Skiles. "The state hadn't been in contact with (the development council) and hadn't consulted us on it."

Instead, Skiles and Spellerberg want the state to approve a bid for its Inland Port Authority project. That project would set aside land to develop a large industrial site and attract businesses. It was made possible by a bill in the Legislature last year. The state will approve up to five locations for the development areas.

"That's kind of our vision for what our community is going to be in the future, this commerce hub," Skiles said. "That's going to be a pretty heavy lift in this community to get this done and get it started."

The proposed site for the Inland Port Authority is more than 1,500 acres, or the area of more than 1,000 football fields. The Greater Fremont Development Council says Fremont is an ideal location for the project, which it said would have a possible impact of more than a $1 billion to the state economy when operational.

City Councilmember Glen Ellis also doesn't want a new prison near Fremont. He said a "Fremont Penitentiary" could hurt the city's image in a time the city is working hard to build a positive reputation.

"If we're bringing that prison in," Ellis said, "It's just going to add more baggage to the work that we have to get done here in order to make this place an attractive place."

Dodge County Boardmember Bob Missel said he and Skiles "expressed our concerns" in a Zoom call with Frakes in late January.

"(Frakes) said that if funding for the prison gets approved by the legislature this spring, the next step would be to reevaluate the locations and then begin the process of conducting public meetings to receive community feedback before a decision to locate would be made," Missel told 3 News Now in an email. "Megan and I did express our concerns highlighting workforce challenges currently for our existing businesses in Dodge County. We also wanted to make clear we would not want the location of a prison to disrupt our effort to establish one of Nebraska’s new Inland Port Authority’s in Dodge County."

Learn more: 'You're not addressing the overcrowding problem': Senators grill corrections director on new prison

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