EVANSTON — Uinta County officials gathered at the Uinta County Complex on Tuesday, Nov. 21, to participate in a conference call update on the proposed ICE detention facility with representatives of Management Training Corporation, the company looking to construct the facility in Evanston, and Municipal Capital Markets, the group responsible for the financing aspect of the project.
Mike Murphy, official with MTC, and Mike Harling, with Municipal Capital Markets, said they are waiting for a response from ICE about the suitability of Evanston as a possible location and did not expect that response to be issued before January. If ICE approves the location, there are then many other steps to go through prior to the project itself being officially approved.
In October, ICE sent out a Request for Information on possible detention facility sites in four areas where the agency has a need for a facility — Salt Lake City, Detroit, Chicago, and Minneapolis. According to the ICE website, potential locations must be within 180 miles of one of these areas to be considered.
MTC officials said they believe there were three submissions of possible sites near Salt Lake City, but two of them were outside of the 180-mile radius and therefore were not serious considerations. Evanston was the third site.
If given the go-ahead for the Evanston location, officials with MTC will then need to submit a specific proposal to ICE for the facility and have a contract in place prior to breaking ground. Additionally, there are two possible ways any contract could go.
The contract could be a Federal Acquisition Regulation, or FAR-based contract between the service provider, in this case MTC, and ICE. Alternatively, if there is only one proposal submitted, ICE could enter into an inter-governmental contract with the county.
One of the important differences between the two types of contracts is that a FAR-based contract between ICE and MTC would require the completion of an environmental impact study while an inter-governmental contract would not.
The timeline for construction to begin would be sometime in summer of 2018 with a completion date of 2020, regardless of what type of contract is in place. MTC officials also said, “We’re staying sensitive to make sure we don’t create an obligation on the county or the citizens.”
Some discussion was held between Uinta County and MTC officials over whether an ICE detention facility would require the approval of all five elected members of Wyoming’s executive branch. Wyoming law requires such an approval for any private prison construction, and there is some uncertainty as to whether an immigration detention center meets the criteria of a prison.
These five officials are currently Governor Matt Mead, Secretary of State Ed Murray, State Auditor Cynthia Cloud, State Treasurer Mark Gordon, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.
Evanston attorney Mark Harris, who is working with Municipal Capital Markets, said he thinks the law does apply to this case and the project will need the approval of all five officials. Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson said she has been in contact with the Wyoming Attorney General’s office and has asked for an assessment of what approach needs to be taken to move forward.
Officials with MTC said they were waiting for a decision from ICE on the location prior to seeking approval from Wyoming officials. Uinta County Commission Chair Eric South said he feels it’s good to research and look into the situation, but added, “We don’t want to get too far ahead of the game.”
However, Commissioner Craig Welling said he thought it would be prudent to begin approaching the officials in some way sooner rather than later.
Murphy said he would be happy to arrange a meeting with Mead to discuss the project as it would be good to have the governor’s support no matter what. “It would be helpful if we can get the governor’s blessing,” said Murphy. “The governor sets the pace.”
Murphy said he would send Uinta County Clerk Amanda Hutchinson a list of dates he was available so that he and county officials could coordinate a trip to Cheyenne.
Welling also asked if ICE was anxious to move forward with the project. Murphy said there are always politics involved that slow down the process, but he said that funds for the four facilities throughout the country had already been budgeted and expressed a belief the project was likely to move forward. “It’s all about location, location, location,” said Murphy. “Evanston is the sweet spot.”