12 years later, building prison in Brush Valley still a bad idea
To the editor: The Brush Valley Preservation Association (BVPA) fought long and hard to stop the destruction of the Trout Run portion of Brush Valley, a pristine 1,900-acre watershed that boasts a high quality water supply and a diverse wildlife population.
Today, Trout Run is threatened once again - this time by a county prison, floated by the county commissioners as a solution to ending the litany of lawsuits that have plagued the prison in recent years. The idea is to construct a brand new prison in Trout Run, expanding the current prison's capacity and thus putting the county into the business of incarceration with hopes of attracting prisoners from all across the Commonwealth.
A few problems:
1. The county's legal plight is not due to physical conditions at the prison but alleged abuse and mistreatment by prison staff. In addition to all the problems associated with the federal prison project proposed before, this new proposal would cripple our already floundering county with another $60 million of debt. This isn't to say that the prison doesn't require structural improvements; however, the county commissioners should first look at the possibility of refurbishing the existing facility, which could save considerable taxpayer dollars. Sixty-million dollars is a huge price tag for a county that just raised taxes, is losing its tax base and has to spend millions on upgrading the 911 call center.
2. This is not an economic development project and will not result in permanent job creation, merely job relocation.
3. Considering the massive public opposition to the federal prison being built in Trout Run, the county should ensure that this entire process is open and includes plenty of opportunity for public input.
4. Moving the prison from the county seat will mean higher costs associated with transporting prisoners from the courthouse.
5. The "infrastructure" that currently exists at the Trout Run site is nothing more than a short extension of sewer pipe that leads from the existing state prison.
6. Northumberland County has many abandoned industrial and commercial sites that offer the necessary infrastructure and shovel ready potential needed for a project like this; in fact, the SEEDCO industrial complex in Coal Township, where Reinhart FoodServices is currently housed, has received millions of taxpayer dollars for site preparedness and infrastructure upgrades. If it is deemed essential to move the prison from Sunbury to Coal Township, our residents should demand the prison be cited at SEEDCO, where no other industry has yet to come, to maximize the investment already made by taxpayers in this nearly empty site.
7. The county's own natural inventory conducted a few years ago states:
a. In the event that the Trout Run Watershed lands are considered for sale, a concerted effort should be made to secure much of this contiguous valley for conservation and recreation purposes.
b. The Trout Run and South Branch Roaring Creek watersheds have not been mined. Consequently, the water in these streams is of high quality supporting trout populations and a diverse array of aquatic life.
c. The water is of such high quality that the water company was able to provide unfiltered drinking water to their customers until recent state regulations required the water to be filtered
8. Trout Run is far more valuable to the area in its natural state than if developed; in 2010, Pennsylvania state parks alone hosted 37.9 million visitors who spent $839 million on their visits. If Trout Run were to be acquired as a state park or forest, the county would have the opportunity to draw tourists, families, local businesses, sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts who will spend time and dollars in our region - not just more prisoners.
9. The water company is a publicly traded company and a private landowner and certainly can do what it wants with its land; however, when our taxpayer dollars are used for a project like this, we become the investors and have a right and responsibility to speak out.
Over a decade ago, involved and informed people came together in our area to prevent a foolish and reckless plan. I feel that common sense and public involvement will do so again if needed.
Bottom line: Building a prison in Trout Run was a bad idea 12 years ago; it's an even worse idea today.
John R. Faraguna