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Berlin prison gets OK in Senate

BERLIN - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved an appropriations bill that would allow a 1,280-bed federal prison in Berlin to open and provide the area with hundreds of new jobs.

'Keeping a completed prison empty at the cost of $4 million per year just doesn't make sense. I urge the House to pass this bill quickly,' U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said in a statement.

The medium-security prison was completed in November 2010 at a cost of $276 million. It is expected to employ 332 people - 60 percent from the local work force - and pump $40 million annually into the local and regional economy.

'It's very exciting that finally, finally, finally we're going to be able to bring new, productive young families to the area,' Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier said. 'I want to thank the efforts of Senator Jeanne Shaheen for doing everything she could to get this prison open.'

Grenier's praise of Shaheen was matched only by his scorn for U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., one of 30 senators to vote against the funding.

'I am deeply angered, saddened and mystified that Senator Ayotte voted against creating 332 jobs,' Grenier said.

Ayotte had said earlier that while she supported the Berlin prison funding, 'I do have concerns that, unfortunately, the justified funding for Berlin has been included in a catch-all spending package that stands to increase federal spending by about $9.5 billion over last year's levels.'

Grenier said he received a call on Tuesday from Ayotte staffer Simon Thompson explaining her vote.

'My reaction to him was that you're splitting hairs and you're condemning an area to a slow death just to play politics and I resent that,' Grenier said. 'We do not need our own Congressional delegation to hold us back.'

Ayotte spokesman Jeff Grappone said Ayotte has worked toward providing the funding, including touring the prison in August and sending a May 9 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Bureau of Prisons Acting Director Thomas Kane urging them to redirect funds to allow for the prison's opening.

Grappone said she voted against the measure because it also included hundreds of millions of dollars of what she felt was wasteful spending, including $544 million to subsidize Amtrak's long-distance routes and $143 million for the Essential Air Service program, which Grappone said provides subsidies to small, rural airports at up to $3,700 per passenger.

'Unfortunately, money for the prison was included in a large appropriations package stuffed with wasteful and duplicative spending that ultimately increases spending by $2.7 billion over last year's levels,' Ayotte said in a statement. 'Despite my strong support for activating Berlin, with nearly $15 trillion in debt, we can't afford to keep spending money we don't have, especially on the unrelated wasteful and duplicative programs that were included in this bill.'

The measure is now in the hands of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Stephanie DuBois, communications director for U.S. Rep. Charles F. Bass, R-N.H., said in a statement that Bass will 'work toward ensuring the necessary funding is available to open the prison during House-Senate conference negotiations on the appropriations bill.'

J. Mark Powell, communications director for U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., said in a statement: 'Because the Senate just acted on this legislation on Tuesday, Congressman Guinta hasn't had a chance to see it yet. He typically doesn't comment on legislation until he has had a chance to review it. He's looking forward to reading the bill and examining its details very soon.'

Shaheen said the federal prison system is 39 percent overcrowded and needs the new prison to address safety concerns associated with overcrowding.

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