The debate over whether to move terrorist detainees to a near-vacant state prison in rarely mentioned Thomson is filled with irony.
That prison was supposed to be built on Department of Defense property on the Savanna Army Depot. Then-Gov. Jim Edgar awarded that site the prison late in his final term to help offset hundreds of job losses when the army depot officially closed.
But media-backed environmentalists quickly threw up a challenge. The army depot grounds along the Mississippi River may be home to decades of munitions testing and contamination but they're also home to some of the last native sand prairies.
Candidates George Ryan and Glenn Poshard both voiced their environmental concerns and the sand prairies won.
So Edgar moved the prison site a few miles to the south to what was once going to be a nuclear power plant site.
The prison opened during Ryan's tenure but by then the price tag had swelled from the initial $98 million to nearly $140 million. This is Illinois taxpayers' money we're talking about.
Anyway, this was back in a time when prisons were economic development and rural communities fought each other for the hundreds of steady jobs.
Thomson was envisioned as a state-of-the-art facility to begin shouldering some of the prison burden housed at other aging prisons.
So there's irony No. 1. The Department of Defense was ready to hand over land for a state prison in the 1990s that could now end up being sold to the federal government so the Department of Defense could house detainees.
Perhaps you desire a little more irony?
Thomson was finished in 2001 but never staffed because of state budget problems. After hitting up taxpayers to build the prison, the state couldn't find the money to pay for the guards and other staff and so this modern prison sits virtually unused.
During Thomson's construction, the economy had been humming along. But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks crashed the economy and subsequent credit crunches created a recession from which Illinois has yet to recover.
The irony is that if it had not been for those attacks, Thomson rather likely would have been opened and staffed in one of then-Gov. George Ryan's budgets and never been available to house terrorist detainees.
I suppose an added bit of irony is that if Thomson becomes a federal prison, there's a chance Ryan could finish out his federal sentence there.