An article with a sensational headline "Hardin jail tries for detainees from Gitmo," recently appeared in the Billings Montana Gazette. It provides a glimpse into some fundamental problems with big government solutions and the Obama agenda.
Hardin, Montana is a city of 3,384 people and not enough jobs. The city council of Hardin voted unanimously to create 100 new high paying jobs for some of its citizens by getting into the prison business. The city fathers committed to a $27 million bond program to fund the construction of a medium security, 460-bed prison through its economic development agency, the Two Rivers Authority. The prison was completed in 2007.
There was one small problem, no prisoners. Apparently, somebody forgot to investigate the economic demand for a 460-bed prison in the southeast corner of Montana, where the population density is three people per square mile. As a result of not having any customers for a couple of years, the facility defaulted on its financial obligations.
It is not often that a city has a completely empty over sized jail. Thus the Gitmo closing was seen as God sent by the city council. They even passed a resolution:
The council resolution states that the city "fully supports the efforts of the Two Rivers Authority to contact State and Federal officials for the purpose of inquiring into the possibility of housing Guantanamo detainees at the Two Rivers Authority in Hardin, Montana..."
This Guantanamo to Montana Prison Plan reveals several basic problems with government planning and spending if one takes a look ... just below the surface.
The city of Hardin is part of that big northern purple splotch on the map above. This represents an embarrassment of coal, covering Eastern Montana, part of Wyoming, and Western North Dakota. The area is referred to as the Saudi Arabia of coal. It is high quality, low sulpher coal that is near the surface and can be easily strip-mined.
This coal should be in high demand, but there are two Democrat created economic and political problems:
One problem is that Utility companies would prefer to use the lower cost, higher quality western coal but that interferes with the livelihood of the constituents of West Virginia Democrat Senator Robert Byrd. This in turn threatens Sen. Byrd's relentless efforts to have his name placed on every public building, parking lot and highway in West Virginia.
Robert Byrd has spent an entire career ensuring the smokestack pollution scrubbing equipment, that is required to burn the far dirtier West Virginia coal, must also be used to burn the cleaner coal the sits beneath Hardin, Montana. This eliminates any cost advantage for using the cleaner and safer western low sulpher coal. (Strip mining is far safer than deep hard rock mining.) The second problem is President Obama has marked the coal industry as public enemy number one and specifically targeted it for destruction through cap and trade regulations.
So, here we have the city fathers desperately trying not to exploit an abundant natural resource that should be in great demand but for Robert Byrd's regulations and the Obama administrations extreme environmental policies. Instead the city council is in the business of building and maintaining an empty prison -- a business that they knew nothing about, and, apparently, a business with no customers.
The Hardin city council and the Two Rivers Authority have assured the Obama administration, "it could provide a safe and secure environment for housing said detainees." And not to worry about escapees, "Montana is pretty homogenous, so detainees, many of Middle Eastern descent, would not easily blend into crowds."
Wouldn't everyone be better off, if the detainees stayed in Gitmo and citizens of Hardin, Montana could just start digging coal?