EDA rejects giving land for correctional center

Published 10:55 am Wednesday, January 23, 2019

On Jan. 8, Isle of Wight County’s Economic Development Authority voted not to deed 20 acres of land along Walters Highway to either the county or the state. The county had previously identified this land, located in a proposed third phase of the county’s EDA-owned Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park, as its preferred location for a proposed 60-bed juvenile correctional center.

The vote was 5-1 with James Ford of Smithfield as the dissenting vote, and EDA Chairman Ron Pack, also of Smithfield, abstaining. However, Pack has since scheduled a special called meeting of the EDA for today, Jan. 23 at 4 p.m., in the Board of Supervisors boardroom to re-vote on the matter.

Don Robertson, assistant county administrator and county spokesman, said he was under the impression that the EDA had scheduled the second vote because its members did not want to take any action until after the public information sessions on the project, which were held in the Windsor Town Center on Jan. 10. Robertson said that prior to the vote, there had been a lengthy discussion, during which several members expressed a reluctance to vote prior to those sessions. However, Pack said that he scheduled the meeting in response to a request by the county’s Board of Supervisors last week that the EDA reconsider its decision.

Dick Holland, who represents the town of Windsor on the EDA and has been one of the more vocal critics of the juvenile correctional center project, questioned the need for a new vote.

“How many bites at the apple are they entitled to get?” he asked, rhetorically.

Holland also claimed that some EDA members have been getting lobbied to change their votes on Wednesday. Pack, however, denied lobbying anyone and said that no EDA member had come to him with complaints of being lobbied either.

The state selected Isle of Wight County as its desired location for the center after Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors, in closed session meetings held in early 2018, expressed interest and ultimately consented to having the facility in the county.

The county officially went public with its plans for the facility in July 2018 and, on Jan. 10, held two public information sessions where county residents  were able to question county and state officials directly about the project.

On Jan. 17, during a Board of Supervisors meeting, County Administrator Randy Keaton said he believed public perception was working against the correctional center project. Several supervisors also made rebuttals that evening to comments that had been made at the public information sessions.

“The biggest misconception is that the county is rushing this project,” Keaton said.

Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson, who represents the county’s Hardy District, said he felt some of the comments made at the public information sessions were inappropriate and inaccurate. However, he said he felt Keaton’s remarks at those sessions had been truthful.

“Windsor, I think, is going to be a great benefactor of this project,” Jefferson said. “Look at the jobs, look at the money that will be spent. It’s not going to be spent in Smithfield. It’s not going to be spent in Franklin.”

Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice said he took personal exception to comments that the board had been less than transparent, and pointed out that he and Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree had insisted that the Windsor town government be consulted before the county proceeded with its plans.

“This board has been forthcoming, held numerous public sessions to give information,” added Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty. “There is nothing this board is trying to withhold.”

Following the Board of Supervisors negotiations, the General Assembly added language to the state’s budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 mandating that the facility be constructed somewhere in Isle of Wight County. Robertson was uncertain what effect a second EDA vote to deny would have on the project. However, county officials have previously stated that if the EDA approves the deeding of the land directly to the state, no public hearing would be required.

If, on the other hand, the EDA votes to transfer the land back to the county, a public hearing would be required before the transfer could be completed.