Thomson Sale Gains Traction

Freeport Journal
January 6, 2010

Jeff Montgomery

Freeport, Ill. - The understated sign just outside the Village of Thomson proclaims the small town the “melon capital of the world.”

The sleepy, northwest Illinois village could soon be known for something far different.

State lawmakers gathered in Thomson Wednesday afternoon to support the sale of the Thomson Correctional Center to the federal government, touting the potential economic benefits of the proposed sale just hours after the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability cast a 7-4 vote in favor of closing the facility.

The non-binding vote offered only symbolic support for the sale, but further strengthened the push to transform the Thomson prison into a federal facility and a future home for up to 100 detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Wednesday the sale’s benefits would extend well beyond the Village of Thomson and provide an economic boost for residents throughout northwest Illinois.

“This would provide a dramatic shot in the arm for the local economy,” Durbin said.

A press release issued Wednesday by Durbin and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn said the sale of the Thomson prison could generate up to 3,800 jobs and pump $1 billion into the local economy.

Durbin on Wednesday acknowledged there is no definitive timetable for the proposed sale but said significant progress could be seen within the year.

“There is a very real possibility this could bring jobs to the area in 2010,” he said.

Prior to Wednesday’s vote, the Thomson debate had largely been split along party lines. The partisan debate took a noticeable turn Wednesday, when two Republicans — State Sen. Dave Syverson of Rockford and State Rep. Rich Meyers of Colchester — offered their support for the plan.

Durbin acknowledged the controversial nature of the Thomson debate, but said the majority of dissent has come from “a vocal few.”

“There are a lot of critics,” Durbin said. “But we haven’t seen many on the local level.”

State Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonica, echoed Durbin’s stance, framing the debate as “an issue of economic development” and dismissing opponents of the Thomson sale as “fear-mongerers.”

Municipalities throughout the region are trying to seize upon the perceived benefits of the Thomson transformation. City and business leaders gathered in Freeport Tuesday to discuss the sale and how the city could benefit from the influx of residents to the region.

Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp, who attended Wednesday’s press conference in Thomson, said the City of Freeport could experience significant benefits stemming from the Thomson sale.

“This could be beneficial for the entire area,” Gaulrapp said. “This will not just affect Thomson.”

For supporters of the Thomson sale, there is still work to be done. If the sale of Thomson is ultimately given the go-ahead, the process of selling the facility could prove to be lengthy.

Despite Wednesday’s display of support, the issue remains clouded by safety concerns.

Opponents of the plan have pointed to security concerns surrounding the transportation of multiple terrorist suspects to Illinois.