Kings Fairgrounds

Concerns have been expressed that the state might try to house evacuated Corcoran prison inmates at the Kings Fairgrounds if Corcoran flooded, but it now appears that the state has other plans.

Seth Nidever, The Sentinel

HANFORD – As Corcoran prepares for the possibility of flooding, the question has come up: Where would Charles Manson and the thousands of other hardened criminals be taken to if the prisons were evacuated?

There's been some concern that the state might try to take inmates to the Kings Fairgrounds, according to Joe Neves, Kings County Office of Emergency Services director.

"That was a plan that they had a few years ago, and we kind of complained about it," Neves said. "I'm not sure if they ever adjusted that."

Neves said there is "no way" county officials would support putting prisoners on the fairgrounds. 

Neves said that, according to the county's emergency plan, the fairgrounds is where ordinary Corcoran residents with nowhere to go would be housed and fed in the event of flooding in Corcoran.

"[The state] needs to find something in their own facilities to house [evacuated] inmates," he said.

Neves said the possibility of the fairgrounds being used came up in conversations about coordinated emergency action that state prison officials had with Kings County officials several years ago.

In a phone interview, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Spokesman Bill Sessa would neither confirm nor deny that the fairgrounds is an evacuation point for prisoners.

"We do have contingency plans in the event of a flood," he said.

Sessa said state officials won't reveal the evacuation plan ahead of time because of "security reasons."

"Obviously, inmates have relationships with people out in the community, some of them well-intended, some of them not," Sessa said.

Sessa did say that state prison officials "would never mix state inmates with city residents under any circumstances."

He declined to elaborate on what he meant by "mix."

The state's plan is to transfer Corcoran inmates to county jails or to other state prison facilities in the region, including prisons in Kern County, according to Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson.

Robinson said he got that information in conversations with state officials last week.

"[The prisoners] would be [placed] in a secure environment," Robinson said. "My understanding is, the [fairgrounds] is going to be a resource for the community, not for the prisons."

While Sessa wouldn't discuss inmate evacuation plans, he did say the department is helping with a project to raise and strengthen a levee that is Corcoran's last line of defense should the old Tulare Lake start to re-fill with floodwaters from snowmelt later this year.

The levee also protects the prisons.

Sessa said the department has allowed the Cross Creek Flood Control District to get dirt from state-owned farmland adjacent to the prisons to build up the levee. 

Meanwhile, officials and others in Corcoran are taking precautions in case flooding happens.

City Manager Kindon Meik said Corcoran Police Department employees are moving records to a storage container at the city's water treatment plant.

The plant is located east of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks, a location Meik said is less likely to flood than areas west of the tracks.

He said other city departments and the Corcoran Joint Unified School District are looking into placing key equipment and records in storage containers east of the tracks.

As a precaution, J.G. Boswell Co. has moved cotton bales out of the Corcoran area, according to Jim Wadsworth, the company's vice-president of processing.

"I think it just comes down to being good stewards of the assets of the company," Wadsworth said.

Meik urged Corcoran residents to figure out now how they'll get themselves and their property out of town if an evacuation is ever ordered.

Meik said that, if possible, they should make arrangement to stay with friends and family.

He said people should also prepare for how to house and feed pets that would have to be evacuated.

"We're just encouraging residents to make sure they have a plan," he said. "It's so important to have a plan."

As far as flood insurance for Corcoran home owners, the window of opportunity to get it is closing.

Agents say that once you sign a contract for a year's worth of coverage and pay the full cost up-front, there's a 30-day waiting period before coverage kicks in.

That means that if a flood happened during the waiting period, residents' homes and belongings wouldn't be insured.

Historically, peak runoff on the Kings River – the biggest natural waterway that feeds into the old Tulare Lake bottom – happens anywhere from late May to early July.

Peak runoff is when the greatest amount of snowmelt is coming out of the mountains. That's when the old lake bottom is likely to get its greatest influx of water.

The reporter can be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2432. 

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