Updated: Thursday, 20 Aug 2009, 7:28 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 20 Aug 2009, 10:35 AM EDT
STANDISH, Mich. (AP/WOOD) - Opponents dominated a town hall meeting Thursday on whether Guantanamo Bay terrorism suspects should be transferred to the maximum security prison in Standish.
Every speaker but one criticized the idea during the two-hour meeting at a local church. Many were from outside the area, while others were employees of the state prison fearing they would lose their jobs if the Guantanamo inmates are moved to Standish.
"President Obama cannot put those prisoners on U.S. soil," said Paul Piche, a long-time prison guard. "They don't belong on U.S. soil, ever. There's nothing wrong with Guantanamo Bay. It's not broken."
The Obama administration is considering sending the 229 detainees to the prison, which is scheduled to close this year because of state budget cuts.
Critics said the detainees' presence could make Michigan a terrorist target.
Merle Decker lives across a cornfield from the prison. He said he'll move out if it houses Guantanamo Bay terrorism suspects.
"I just wouldn't want to live with it up here too close to me," he said. "...Them people are liable to do anything."
City Manager Michael Moran said in an interview a "silent majority" of local residents is open to hosting the detainees to save the prison, which is the area's top employer. If the prison were to close, about 340 jobs would be lost.
"This is an issue for Standish and for people who live in the community," Moran said. "This particular town hall meeting was called by people who felt strongly we should not even consider Guantanamo."
He would prefer Michigan not close the state prison, but says the federal prison jobs would boost the town.
"If we speculated 500 to 1200 military military staff coming in, and their families, that again would certainly help the community," Moran said.
But U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, questioned whether any locals would get prison jobs. They would likely go to the Department of Defense, he said.
When asked what she has been hearing around town about Gitmo, one waitress answered:
"Pros and cons. Yeah, it's good, but then it's not good," said Lori Curtis, who works at the Standish Baker. "It will make money, but what about terrorism?"
A group of federal officials inspected the prison last week, but the White House says no decision has been made.