Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008 | 2 a.m.
The residents of Rachel lost the first round in their fight to keep a private prison out of their community of fewer than 100 people. Now, they might not be able to afford to fight the second round.
Beyond the Sun
The Lincoln County Planning Commission has approved a permit for a prison near the town that has earned pop culture cachet for claims of alien sightings and its proximity to Area 51, the government testing facility long shrouded in secrecy.
The county limited the private prison to 1,500 beds, although developer Jim Toreson had asked for 2,000. Toreson will have to pay for infrastructure improvements including roads, and water and electric lines to the 100-acre site four miles from Rachel.
Anyone living in Rachel, 150 miles north of Las Vegas, may, until Monday, appeal the Planning Commission decision to the Lincoln County Commission. To do so would cost $900 — the same cost as Toreson’s initial application.
“That’s ridiculous; $900 is a lot of money,” said Pat Travis, whose family owns Little A’Le’Inn, the lone business in town.
Travis noted that residents had pooled their money — more than $1,500 — to advertise in a local newspaper and print fliers encouraging people to protest the prison plan. The townsfolk will meet Saturday to decide whether to appeal and whether they can come up with the cash.
Residents say the prison threatens their rural way of life. They claim lights from the facility would diminish the view of the dark night sky that is perfect for stargazing and UFO watching. In addition, they say it would draw traffic and outsiders to a town that is 50 miles from the nearest convenience store, school and police station.
Toreson argues the prison will be a boon for the town, bringing jobs and commerce. Additionally, it would help him develop his adjacent 700-lot housing tract, Lincoln Estates.
Toreson insists the medium-security prison will be safe, noting repeatedly that it would be for nonviolent offenders, the type of joint that Martha Stewart did her time in. Toreson plans to build the prison and find a company to operate it. He expects the state to house overflow inmates there.
Rachel residents have seven business days from the Planning Commission’s decision last week to file an appeal.
“I don’t know if anyone wants to spend the money,” said Bob Clabaugh, a retired pilot who moved to Rachel from Las Vegas 10 years ago to escape the big city. “I don’t know who could come up with it. I’d kick in a couple of hundred bucks.”
Many in the town echo that sentiment, but they wonder whether the fight is worth the money.
“We knew they were going to pass it, we could just tell,” Clabaugh said. “They always made it sound like a lot better deal than it was.”
Lincoln County officials say the main draw for them is additional tax revenue, although it has not been determined how much the prison would bring in.
Lincoln County has a population of 4,165. But only 2 percent of the land in the county is privately owned and one-third of it gets agricultural property tax exemptions.
The money doesn’t matter to the Rachel residents, who just want to preserve their isolation. And although $900 may seem like little to preserve a way of life, it’s a small fortune for many people in town.
“Hopefully we can pull a little bit from everybody,” Travis said.