Apr 09 2009

Ground broken on $200 million federal prison

Response from Pickens County residents mixed

By Jason Morton Staff Writer

The golden shovels were out Wednesday as U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby and Aliceville and Pickens County officials broke ground on a $200 million federal prison for women.

Work has been ongoing at the site for the last three months or so, said construction manager William Yates, but Wednesday marked the ceremonial beginning of what proponents call the biggest public works project in West Alabama.

“Aliceville is going to be on the map, big time,” Shelby said from the podium. “And we’re going to be having a lot of people coming in here — some of them staying longer than they want to.”

The Federal Correctional Complex in Aliceville is intended to hold 1,400 female inmates and is on schedule to be completed by May 2011. The prison will be medium-security, meaning murderers and other violent felons will not come here.

Supporters have said the prison comes with economic benefits, such as construction jobs in an area that now has an unemployment rate of more than 10 percent.

Residents, however, expressed mixed feelings about the facility.

Some believe the facility could bring more jobs and an improved business climate, but others are concerned about safety and the kind of people the prison could attract.

“I guess it has its high points and low points,” said Jasma Colvin, 21. “Everyone’s looking at the jobs it may bring in ... [but] is the security going to be good?”

Bill Huff manages the Piggly Wiggly market that his grandfather opened in 1932. He thinks the new prison will do nothing but good for Aliceville, a city of about 2,500 people.

“We have a lot of unemployment,” Huff said. “There’s not a lot of opportunities for the young people around here to find good-paying jobs or careers.”

He said several factories in Pickens County have closed over the years, such as the Huyck Felt plant and the Fruit of the Loom cotton mill, costing the area hundreds of jobs.

“Those jobs were never replaced,” he said.

An estimated 700 people will be employed during construction of the prison, officials said.

Yates, whose company, WG Yates & Sons Construction of Philadelphia, Miss., teamed with Montgomery-based Caddell Construction Co. to win the $200 million construction bid, said those hired to build the modern, 85-acre facility would include Aliceville and Pickens County residents.

When operational, the prison will employ up to 350 with an annual payroll of about $30 million, said state Rep. Alan Harper, who is also Aliceville’s director of economic development.

“These people that are employed in our prison will shop in our grocery stores, eat in our restaurants and generally improve our tax situation ...,” Harper said. “It means the world to me to be able to offer the job and employment opportunities for this area.”

There is enough room on the 600-acre prison site for future expansion, which Aliceville Mayor William R. McKinzey Jr. said he hopes can come sooner rather than later.

“It’s just going to present a new attitude,” McKinzey said. “We’ve been in a downward decline for the past few years, but for the next couple of years we’re going to have a lot of business going on with the construction. ...

“We could wake up and be one of the largest cities in West Alabama.”

Issac J. Gaston, site selection specialist for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, said Aliceville was chosen over three other Pickens County sites because of the available land, infrastructure and support from the community.

McKinzey, Harper and others visited Shelby in Washington about five years ago to ask for help in securing the federal prison project, the mayor said.

Shelby last year told the mayor he had secured the $200 million appropriation needed to build the facility.