Windsor Council discusses correctional center

Published 11:28 am Saturday, July 28, 2018

On Monday during a special called meeting, Windsor’s Town Council again discussed the state’s plans to locate a juvenile correctional facility in Isle of Wight County. The meeting was well attended, with several town residents and representatives from the county government in the audience.

For the past several months, Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors have been in negotiation with the state to have the proposed 60-bed, campus-style facility be the first tenant of Phase III of its Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park, most of which is located just outside town boundaries. While the General Assembly’s 2018-2019 budget specifies that the facility will be located somewhere in the county, the exact location has yet to be chosen.

Several council members again expressed concerns over a recent preliminary environmental study of the land intended to form Phase III of the intermodal park, which listed numerous areas of potential wetlands. The council first learned of the study on July 11 and had previously expressed concerns regarding a proposed alternative site near Buckhorn Drive during an intergovernmental meeting with county and state officials last Friday.

“Most of us have driven on Buckhorn, it is a narrow country road,” said Mayor Carita Richardson. “It has places where there are bad curves because there are wetlands swaths running through there.”

She added that she felt the county should consider sites outside of the intermodal park and Windsor, where water and sewer lines and wider roads already exist. She also said she was still concerned about the possibility of inmates escaping.

During last Friday’s intergovernmental meeting, Andy Block, director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, said that ever since a fence was constructed at the DJJ’s Bon Air correctional facility in Chesterfield County in the 1990s, there has not been an escape.

Councilman Tony Ambrose said that while he was not necessarily opposed to the facility being located in the county, he was opposed to the “appearance of sneaking it in through the back door.”

“That is not to say there is anything underhanded being done, merely the perception,” Ambrose said.

He also expressed doubts regarding the number of jobs the facility would bring to the county, and suggested that perhaps 10 percent of the 240 jobs the county and state are estimating would be filled by county residents.

Councilwoman Patty Flemming said that her son and daughter-in-law live near the Bon Air facility and have seen no problems as far as security is concerned. However, she did raise concerns regarding the extent to which traffic might increase, particularly if the facility were built on the site near Buckhorn Drive.

Councilman Walter Bernacki said he and constituents who had contacted him felt that the county had been less than transparent about its intentions. He also raised concerns regarding the facility’s demand on the town’s volunteer fire and EMS departments.

Councilman Greg Willis said that he felt it was the council’s duty to look out for the public perception of Windsor as a community, and that the presence of the correctional facility could cause current and prospective town residents to feel unsafe.

Vice Mayor Durwood Scott seconded Bernacki’s concerns on transparency and the facility’s demands on the town’s VFD and rescue squad. He added that he was concerned about the potential for a tax increase if the county found that it needed more paid fire and EMS positions to supplement Windsor’s volunteers. Scott also questioned whether town and county residents currently using well water would be required to connect to a new water line for the facility.

“We as a council can’t stop this,” Scott said. “I think doing this behind closed doors and bringing it to the public after this has been done is what really got the people up in arms.”

Councilman N. Macon Edwards III said that when the county had first presented information to the council on the correctional center, the intent had been to locate the facility off of Route 258, and that he had been in favor of the proposal at that time. However, he said he is not in favor of the proposed alternative site near Buckhorn Drive.