Michigan town's resolve to take Guantánamo detainees wavers

Standish, Mich., is dependent on its prison, which is about to close. It says it still wants the Guantánamo detainees to fill the void, but opponents are pushing to recall members of city council.

Yvonne Zipp
The Standish Max Correctional Facility being considered as a possible site to house detainees when the Guantánamo Bay prison shuts down by 2010.

A Michigan town may be waffling on welcoming Guantánamo Bay detainees.

On Monday, the Standish City Council passed a unanimous resolution expressing interest in having a federal prison at the Standish Max Correctional facility, slated to close Oct. 31 due to budget cuts. But the resolution stripped out all reference to the detainees currently being housed at the US base in Cuba.

While some reports have interpreted the change in language to mean that the welcome mat has been officially yanked, the community 120 miles north of Detroit is not ruling out taking the more than 200 detainees, says Ruth Caldwell, vice president of the Standish Chamber of Commerce.

"[The City Council] watered it down a little because a few people don't want it and have been very vocal, but they did pass it last night," says Ms. Caldwell, who owns Pleasantries gift boutique. And the motion "states we're in favor of a federal option."

President Obama has said he wants to close the facility at Guantánamo by year's end. The prison at Standish, which can hold about 600 inmates, is reported to be one option the federal government is considering. Another is Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, home of the military's only maximum-security prison.

Arenac County, where Standish is located, passed a resolution that supported housing the detainees last week. Arenac County Commissioner Mike Snyder says he has been assured that Standish's door is still open. "The whole point of [the wording change] was to remove the detainee language and replace it with 'federal prisoners.' Did the change in fact exclude Guantánamo detainees? The mayor says it does not," says Mr. Snyder.

Opposition to the plan includes The Coalition to Stop Gitmo North and Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who is believed to be a contender for the 2010 Michigan gubernatorial race. Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) has also expressed concerns about bringing the detainees to Michigan.

On Tuesday, the Coalition launched a move to recall the Standish City Council, three of whom are already at the end of their terms, Commissioner Snyder says.

"My extreme concern is about the hatemongering and mistruths and lack of information" on the part of the Coalition, says Snyder. Until the government makes a decision, "we're dealing with wild speculation that's hurting everyone. It's incredibly detrimental to a real understanding of what's going on."

Ms. Caldwell says her own stance is unchanged: "We need to have something here."

The city must repay bonds taken out when the prison was built in 1990, and one-quarter of its budget ($36,000 a month) comes from the prison's water and sewer bill. Pennsylvania is reportedly also considering the site to help ease overcrowding at its prisons.

But with less than two weeks until the prison closes, Standish is running out of options to replace its largest employer. On Thursday, 100 employees at Standish Max and Camp Lehman in Grayling received notice of layoffs, and others received transfer notices.

Ultimately, Caldwell points out, the city itself has little say in the future of the prison. "It really doesn't matter: If the federal government wants it here, it will be here."


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