THOMSON, Ill. — As the plan to sell Thomson Correctional Center moved closer to reality Tuesday, residents said they would welcome the jobs and dismissed concerns about the safety of the community.
Donna Opheim, manager of The Station, a gas station and convenience store on the southern edge of Thomson, said she and her staff were excited by news that the Obama administration had approved the nearly vacant Thomson Correctional Center to be the site of a federal prison and a detention center for some terrorism suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Opheim said the plan would help the area’s struggling economy and benefit businesses such as hers.
“We’ve got room to grow, and we’re ready to grow,” she said.
Opheim dismissed concerns that bringing suspected terrorists to the prison could make the town or neighboring communities a target for terrorism. Nobody has ever tried to break the terrorism suspects out of the prison they’re in now, she said, so she saw no reason to be afraid.
“If they wanted them, I think they would have gotten them by now,” she said.
Manny Castro, owner of Manny’s in nearby Savanna, Ill., and Manny’s Too in Fulton, Ill., said he and his daughters already were considering an expansion of their family-owned restaurant business at the Savanna location and definitely would expand if the prison plan goes through.
Castro said the jobs are needed in the area where tough economic times have left many storefronts vacant in Savanna, Thomson and Mount
“Every time you turn around, somebody else is closing their doors,” he said.
Castro’s daughter, Michelle Plattenburger, said her husband’s cousin is one of many local people who applied for a job as a state corrections officer at the Thomson prison but is now commuting to work from Mount Carroll to Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet.
The news of the Obama administration’s announcement had the phone ringing off the hook at the Sunrise Restaurant, located just east of the prison in Thomson. By Tuesday morning, waitress Mary Kiggins had already spoken to reporters from CNN, a Canadian news service and a Spanish-language news outlet.
Kiggins, who lives across the Mississippi River in Clinton, Iowa, said the plan would bring jobs to the area and economic benefits to the Thomson area and to Clinton.
Lynn Schroeder, who lives north of Clinton but close enough to Thomson to see the city’s water tower from a hill near her home, said while she saw the economic benefits of the plan, she still had safety concerns about bringing suspected terrorists to such a small town.
“It’s just kind of scary,” she said.
Bob Williams of Savanna dismissed concerns about security, saying they had been blown out of proportion.
“I think (the plan) would be an asset for Carroll County,” Williams said.