Waterloo Township Corrections dept. begins cleanup at ex-prison camp

By Holly Klaft

Jackson Citizen Patriot

WATERLOO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- A tall chain-linked fence topped with rings of razor wire slices through the rural landscape in Jackson County's Waterloo Township.

Behind it are rows of decaying buildings marred by fire and vandalism and an overgrown yard that does little to hide the years of neglect at the long-abandoned Camp Waterloo.

Graffiti and obscenities are scrawled across structures on the estimated 40-acre site, but the rubbish that once littered the ground is gradually disappearing.

Prison work crews a week ago began clearing trash and scrap metal from the deteriorating former state prison facility, which closed 10 years ago and once housed 140 inmates on average.

Last Thursday, eight workers dressed in orange moved in and out of the camp's buildings, removing cardboard boxes, paper, metal and other materials from their interiors.

"They've been doing a lot of work," said Department of Corrections spokesman John Cordell. "The more we can do through work crews, the less expensive it's going to be for demolition."

The work has come as a relief to Waterloo Township officials and area residents, who complained that the site was an eyesore and called it a hazard and a magnet for vandalism.

That eventually motivated state leaders into action.

Michigan Department of Corrections Director Dan Heyns ordered a crew to begin working at the facility after he was approached by state Rep. Mike Shirkey, who relayed concerns about the camp's decaying condition.

Waterloo Township Supervisor Doug Lance said he was glad to hear about the progress crews were making at the camp.

"It sounds a lot better than expected," Lance said. "If they remove the buildings, that would be great."

Ultimately, the Department of Corrections hopes to remove all usable material from the buildings, auction off remaining materials and raze the structures, Cordell said.

However, the cost of the process has been a sticking point.

Demolishing the remaining structures on the grounds, removing fencing at the perimeter of the camp and returning it to a natural state could cost between $800,000 and $1 million, officials estimate.

Finding the funding to carry out those actions will be difficult, state leaders said.

State Rep. Earl Poleski, R-Jackson County's Spring Arbor Township, said he plans to work through the appropriations process to try to find funding to level the former prison camp.

"We would like to get the thing demolished," Poleski said. "Whether we have the funding for it is another question."

Cordell said the department also would be reluctant to put resources into securing the camp and removing graffiti on the grounds, since it is expected to be demolished, and vandals have still managed to find their way inside.

"Removal will take time and money," Cordell said. "The time, we have. The money, we don't."

Published: Tue, Dec 13, 2011

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