>   The recent revelation that the state has about $200 million more in its pocket has bolstered hopes that the Madras state prison project will be funded.
   However, the state prison project is still in legislative limbo. Senate Bill 5531, which includes funding for the Madras prison, has not yet been assigned to the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety, where it would begin its climb to approval.
   The most recent state revenue forecast indicated the state can expect an additional $202 million, compared to the fall forecast. The general fund and lottery revenue totals $12.3 billion. However, even with the additional projected revenue, the state is still $800 million below what it needs to maintain services at present levels.
   At the Feb. 15 local Prison Advisory Committee meeting, Bobbi Burton, community development manager for the Department of Corrections, said that the department was clear that they needed a go-ahead on the $190 million project by the end of the February in order to meet construction deadlines. Now that February has come and gone, the department has extended its timelines.
   "We're hoping for the decision sometime in March," Burton said Monday. "We can accommodate that into our schedule."
   The department gave its case for the Madras prison to the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety in mid-February. However, the subcommittee has not been compelled to suggest passing or rejecting the spending measure. If and when it does, the bill will go to the full Ways and Means Committee, and then will need to pass the full Legislature before approval.
   The prison expansion project is one of several important spending decisions the state faces, all while dealing with that estimated $800 million shortfall. While prison populations are at a level where more beds are needed or will have to be rented, the state's budget situation -- in light of funding needs for education and other social services -- makes new prison construction a tough decision.
   Burton would not venture to guess if the Madras project would get funded or not. While many people are anxious over the delay in funding the Madras prison, Burton noted it "was out of the ordinary" for bills to require funding this quickly in the Legislative session.
   At the Feb. 15 meeting, Burton credited new District 59 Rep. John Dallum (R-The Dalles) with working very hard in support of the Madras prison.
   "I have been monitoring the Ways and Means hearings and keeping in touch with the committee's members to make sure the promise to Madras is delivered," said Dallum in his Feb. 24 legislative report.
   Dallum has indicated he has heard "conflicting reports" as to whether the prison would be funded.
   Ready to roll
   Meanwhile, work on the Madras prison continues. Jerry Jones, of Heery International, and Edward Trotter, of CH2MHill, both addressed the PAC on Feb. 15. Their companies have contracted with the DOC to work on the prison, essentially as go-betweens for the DOC and the contractors.
   Jones, the project manager, said he had just gotten off a $97 million prison project in Florida, that Madras would be his 46th prison to work on, and that he planned to move to the community if the project is funded.
   The plan, said Jones, is to be "moving dirt" by April 1, and have infrastructure at the site by July 1, when construction of the 1,240-bed medium security facility would begin.
   "We definitely have to begin by April 1 to reach our deadlines," said Jones. "If it gets delayed, it will cost a lot more money." Material costs went up 14 percent in 2004, he added, and the massive construction occurring in China is pushing up the demand and costs on raw materials.
   Hoffman Construction Co., of Portland, has the contract for the infrastructure and the medium security facility. The 864-bed minimum security facility will be awarded at a later date.
   Chamber Director Parrish Van Wert, a PAC member, asked about local contractors' chances of working on the project. Trotter, the construction manager, noted that the prison project is "required to be open bid," and locals will have every opportunity to bid on projects.
   A pre-bid conference will be held in early to mid-May, said Trotter, who expected there to be between 250 and 300 people employed at the construction site.
   Van Wert noted that Hoffman Construction has sought, and been provided, lists of local property managers, real estate agencies and RV parks in preparation for the Madras project. Van Wert added listings of local contractors as well.
   If built, the prison complex is expected to employ about 500 people. The complex would go up about three miles east of Madras off Ashwood Road.
   The next meeting of the PAC is set for March 15. It is expected, or at least hoped, that the Legislature will have provided its yes or no by then.
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