Alabama plans a 3,100-inmate prison in the Brierfield community of Bibb County, but officialdom holds all the cards and the governor isn’t showing her hand.
Even Bibb County administrator Derek Reeves responds to questions about the proposed prison by saying: “I don’t know anything about that. We are not involved with the prison.”
Gov. Kay Ivy has disclosed three general locations for prisons that the state will lease from their private developers. Brierfield, the last general area revealed, has received the coolest reception from the residents of Brierfield Estates, who are leading the opposition.
Big questions loom involving how infrastructure would be provided in the rural area, such as treated water, sewage disposal and access roads.
The precise site of the new prison has not been officially announced. But signs point to it being built at the intersection of A. Arker Road and Brickyard Pass about a mile west of Alabama 139, in the Ashby area.
Such a large prison calls for about 500 acres, and the parcel at that location, which has been cleared to bare earth, fits the description released by the governor’s office. A road potentially suitable for heavy construction vehicles also has been cut into the site. Equipment and activity now at the site are of the type suitable for well drilling or environmental testing.
A source with knowledge of the prison development confirmed that the site is, indeed, the intended location for the prison and that contractors are drilling a well there.
Legislators who represent Bibb County have expressed frustration at the governor’s failure to share information as they are bombarded by constituents agitated by the prospect of having felons for next-door neighbors.
Cam Ward, who resigned his state Senate seat earlier this month to become director of the Alabama Pardons and Paroles Board, said he sympathizes with the residents. “They deserve to have more information about a project this size,” he said. The governor has not shared information even with the legislators, he said.
Because the project is a build-lease arrangement, the governor did not have to go to the Legislature for construction funding.
When the three new prisons are ready, 11 other prisons will be shut down, ostensibly freeing up money in the corrections budget to make the lease payments.
Brand new state Rep. Russell Bedsole, the Republican who won a special election Nov. 17 to replace April Weaver, who resigned, was immediately thrust into the prison debate. Luckily, he speaks the language; his “day job” is commander of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Corrections Division.
Bedsole also lamented the lack of information available to legislators and to their constituents. His House District 49 includes western Bibb County, where the site for the new prison appears to be located. Bedsole, too, said he has no information on the exact location.
Furthermore, he said, individual water and sewer board members in the area have been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements with the governor’s office.
Potential providers of water and sewer are thin on the ground in Bibb County. The nearest sewage treatment plant is in Montevallo or Centreville. The closest water lines come from Wilton and actually run to residences on A. Arker Road.
However, Wilton Mayor Jessica Martin said that the town has not been asked to provide water to the prison site, except in emergency situations.
Fire protection is another question arising from siting a prison in a rural area such as Brierfield. Brierfield Fire Chief Spruce McRee said he has spoken with officials involved in state corrections. “They are going to have their own fire and EMS,” McRee said. “We will provide backup.”
He said his understanding is that, depending on the severity of injuries, hospital care would be provided by the Bibb County Hospital in Brent/Centreville or Shelby-Baptist Medical Center in Alabaster.
“The main impact on our department probably will come from increased traffic, meaning more wrecks, in the area of the prison,” McRee said.
According to Laura Koon, director of the Alabaster Water Board, a prison the size of the proposed one would require between 341,000 and 387,000 gallons of treated water every day. To assure adequate pressure for fire protection, she said, the mains would need to be 6 inches to 8 inches diameter.
An ADEM spokesperson said Wednesday that no applications for water treatment or wells have been received for the Ashby-Brierfield area.
Onsite sewage treatment was given as a possibility by several persons interviewed, but outflow sites present a quandary, with Mahan Creek the lost likely.
Mahan Creek is rated “fish and wildlife” by the EPA and flows through the Brierfield Estates development, where opposition to the prison is centered.
However, Alabaster city engineer Fred Hawkins said that recent developments in sewage treatment solutions have made it “possible to put cleaner water back in the stream than what you took out.”
A group led by B.L. Harbert International will be building the prison, Ward said, while another consortium under Cor Civic, a nationwide prison developer, will build the other two.