BIBB COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Neighbors in Bibb and Shelby Counties continue to fight back against plans for a mega-prison to be built in the Brierfield area.
In September, Governor Kay Ivey announced plans for three new sites, including Bibb County.
People who live near the site said they were blindsided by the announcement and worry about the impact on the community.
“There is no one reason why it needs to be in Brierfield because we cannot sustain it,” said Jackson McNeely, who lives in Brierfield.
Despite calls for a public meeting, many neighbors still have questions unanswered.
“The issue of infrastructure, sewer and water, can it handle something like this? What about the roads? What about lack of internet access out there? And then, of course, there is always the unknown on the public safety side. Those are the main issues I keep hearing from my constituents,” said Rep. Cam Ward from Alabaster.
Ward’s district includes the area where the prison is planned. An exact location has not been announced, but it will be near Alabama Highway 139 and County Road 2.
The area is about a 10 minute drive to Montevallo.
“You are looking at 3,100 inmates, plus support staff, and you could be up to 3500 people and our city is only roughly 6,700,” said Rusty Nix, the mayor-elect of Montevallo.
Nix had been serving on the city council until his election. He’ll take office in November and has a lot of questions about the project. He is particularly concerned about the ability of some of the small surrounding communities’ infrastructure.
“Water and sewer are big issues because, Wilton, I don’t believe they can supply the water and we can’t the way we are right now supplying the water and definitely not sewage,” said Nix
Most of the neighbors in the area are on well water. McNeely is concerned about the prison’s potential impact on the surface water and some of the streams that connect to the Cahaba River.
“The only option at this point if not hooking up with a city is to build their own well, McNeely continued. “If a well is drilled, that means it is going to have a zone of influence that is going to pull water from the residents. It is going to pull water if we need it for emergencies with our fire department. It is going to pull from our creeks.”
The Cahaba Riverkeeper is also worried about the plan to deal with wastewater. Nearby Mahan Creek is listed as “impaired” and feeds the Little Cahaba.
Under Ivey’s plan, which did not require lawmaker approval, the facilities will be owned, developed, and maintained by private companies and then leased to the state for use.
The prisons will be operated and staffed by the Alabama Department of Corrections.
Ward said the company will be responsible for the cost of the infrastructure, but it remains unclear how that will work.
“They have to pay for all the sewer, all the water, and all the utility upgrades, the developer does at the facility, but again that leaves a lot of questions because which community is going to do that, or are they going to base it off two or three communities?” Ward asked.
According to Ward, he expects to be able to hold a public input meeting with administration officials.
A date has not been set.
When asked if the prison was “done deal,” Ward replied: “I do not think anything is ever a done deal. Not in my opinion. Because they still have not sealed the deal on the contract from my understanding, at least that is what they have been telling people, are they haven’t sealed the deal on the contract yet, so if the contract hasn’t been inked and notarized, then maybe it is not a done deal.”
Neighbors hope they will get an opportunity to share input on the project. An online petition has more than 2,200 signatures against the prison.
Community members have also started a Facebook group called Block the Brierfield Prison.
“There are other places that even lobbied to get this prison and I think that is where they should be looking to, not a very small community without the resources that are needed,” said McNeely.
Ward told CBS 42 similar lease projects have worked in other states. He said there is the potential for some development with the project that could also bring jobs.
“There have been communities in Alabama that benefitted greatly from the infrastructure upgrades, but I think that depends on what the answer is from the developer or the DOC. What their answer is to sewer and water questions,” Ward said.
CBS 42 reached out to the ADOC for an update on a public meeting. A spokesperson released the following statement:
For clarification, it is important to note that while these prisons will be operated and staffed by ADOC, they will be owned, developed, and maintained by private companies. The RFP required the Developer Teams to submit, as part of their overall proposal, sites in accordance with the pre-posted criteria. Because the facilities will be built and owned by private companies, holding a public hearing is not a part of the process. This is not unusual. Our intent is to continue to work and meet with the legislature and local officials, as we have throughout the procurement process.
We understand the public has concerns, however, at this point in the process, there are limitations to what we can provide while confidential negotiations are ongoing in order to secure the best possible value for the State. We are in the process of negotiating lease agreements with each Developer Team that will include contingencies and very strict terms and conditions which protect our State and communities. We will continue, as we have throughout the entire procurement process, to keep the public updated with new information once it becomes available.
Historically – in Alabama and beyond – the development of a correctional facility within a community initially generates common and understandable concerns from residents. Looking only at our state, the ADOC has built strong relationships with its communities who value the presence of correctional facilities for the economic benefits they provide. We look forward to reaching the point in the procurement process that we can proactively engage with each community, provide information and education that assuages their concerns, and begin to build strong relationships akin to those that exist with the communities in which our current facilities are located.
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