Opposition to Governor Ivey’s plan to commit the state to 30 year leases with private contractors for the construction of new prison facilities has been steadily growing and criticism has been hurled at the Governor from citizens as well as from government officials and legislators.
The Governor has already signed contractors for the construction of private facilities in 2 counties, however, her signature has not been added to the proposed facility scheduled to be constructed in Bibb County near Brierfield, Alabama. It now appears that the private funding that was promised for the first two contracts is on shaky ground.
The Brierfield Prison project has received formidable opposition from local residents, organized student groups, conservationists, and civil rights groups and is gaining opposition from well known political leadership. Officials from the Governor’s office and the Alabama Department of Corrections have refused to release any information about the proposed Brierfield project including information that should be made public, such as the actual site of the prison and environmental studies that should have been published before approvals for construction were considered by regulatory agencies such as the State Department of Health, ADEM and even the EPA.
While officials will not acknowledge where the prison will be built locals know where the project is going because of contractor activity on private property. Private companies have been observed drilling water test wells and running flow tests from well drill sites.
Representatives of private companies have contacted water utilities of Montevallo, Calera, Wilton and Centreville to ask for those municipal utilities to supply water to the proposed site.
While getting sufficient water to the proposed site in Bibb County seems to be a problem it now appears that a financial hurdle will be a larger problem for the proposed project.
Barclay’s Bank, the primary funder for the CoreCivic contractor has withdrawn from the project. “We have advised our client that we are no longer participating in the transaction intended to provide financing for correctional facilities in the State of Alabama,” a Barclays spokesperson wrote to APR [Alabama Political Reporter] on Monday. “While our objective was to enable the State to improve its facilities, we recognize that this is a complex and important issue. In light of the feedback that we have heard, we will continue to review our policies.”
In response the Governor’s Office released a statement on April 19 indicating that the State will continue to move forward. The release said in part:
“The State of Alabama is disappointed that Barclays Plc has elected to no longer participate as an underwriting entity in the Alabama Prison Program. These new facilities, which will be leased, staffed, and operated by the State, are critical to the State’s public infrastructure needs and will be transformative in addressing the Alabama Department of Corrections’ longstanding challenges.
As such, we are moving forward with this project.
Our current correctional facilities are dilapidated, structurally failing, and in need of significant upgrades. It is not a matter of if our current facilities will fail, but when. Given the exorbitant deferred maintenance costs associated with renovating our existing facilities, replacing this infrastructure, which has far outlived its useful life, is the best path forward and the only fiscally responsible decision for the State.”
However, AL. com reported on April 19 that the project is now drawing fire from several state legislators. “Rep. Steve Clouse, a Republican from Ozark who is chairman of the General Fund budget committee in the House of Representatives, said it would be better for the Legislature to authorize a bond issue for the state to build and own the prisons. Sen. Greg Albritton, who chairs the General Fund Committee in the Senate, said he agreed with Clouse.” [See Al.com]
Albritton, the Senate budget chairman, said today’s news about the banks pulling out of financing the two CoreCivic prisons reinforced lawmakers’ concerns about the plan. Among those concerns are the costs and the fact that the state would not own the prisons at the end of the 30-year leases.
McCutcheon declined comment today when asked if it was time to pull the plug on the lease plan.
Pulling the plug may not be necessary. It looks like the Governor’s boat is already aground.