Beginning steps taken for proposed prison site

Caltrans wants to prevent the possibility of aircraft radio interference and distracting lights at the proposed site of a medium-security prison adjacent to Paso Robles Municipal Airport.

Officials are in the beginning stages of a 10- to 12-month draft of an environmental impact report for the state-owned land formerly home to the El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility. That institution, which much of the community knew as a boys school, closed in June 2008.

The state transportation agency’s aeronautics division has concerns with the potential effects on safety for the airport and its pilots, according to a recent letter to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

In October, state officials visited Paso Robles to get community feedback on what should be studied for its trio of prison projects proposed for the site. Agencies and the public had until Nov. 9 to submit their concerns.

The projects include re-configuring the school buildings for a 1,000-inmate, medium-security prison; constructing new stand-alone buildings for a 500-inmate re-entry facilityy; and a 200-inmate County/Cal Fire camp. The re-entry facility would operate independently from the prison and camp.

All three Paso Robles projects could be constructed at different times and in no particular order on the same 160-acre parcel at the northwest corner of Airport and Dry Creek roads. Construction could begin two to three years after the environmental report is complete, officials said.

Noise, groundwater and impact to growth and housing were on a long list officials had already planned to study. Impact on traffic and local hospitals also came up at the meeting.

The letter also notes potential issues with building the prison’s perimeter security system, two 30- to 40- foot tall guard towers, new support and administrative facilities, parking and other physical changes to the land, and interferences those might have with the airport.

The re-entry facility would house inmates from San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and San Benito counties. Approval of all three counties, along with that of Paso Robles’ leaders, was a precondition for the project. All have agreed to it.