TALLASSEE, Ala. (WSFA) - A 376-acre field located off Alabama Highway 229 and Rifle Range Road, just outside of Tallassee’s city limits is the proposed site for a brand new mega-prison in Elmore County.
Tuesday night, residents against the proposed site voiced their concerns to the City Council for the first time.
“The biggest issue that the community has right now with the council and the mayor is the lack of transparency with this matter,” said resident Leslie Ogburn to the council.
“If this is such an economic booster for this community then why not come out and share this with the citizens three or four years ago when people actually felt like they still had a chance to do something about it,” Ogburn went on to say.
Janice Wisener owns the land adjacent to the proposed prison location. She said the community should have been given more opportunities to voice their concerns.
“I do believe it would have been more beneficial to get the public involved,” Wisener said outside of City Hall. “We really don’t have any say in it because we are outside the city limits and the people inside the city limits seem to be promoting it.”
All the while, Elmore County Commission Chairmen Troy Stubbs and Tallassee Mayor John Hammock said they too did not know about the official prison location until Gov. Kay Ivey made the announcement in early October.
“I had no idea,” said Hammock. “But again, this is a free country. If you want to buy a piece of property or someone wants to sell a piece of property to someone you are allowed to do that. You don’t need to get your neighbors permission. I feel the compassion for those people, but again, you don’t have to let anyone know your business.”
“The people buying the property, CoreCivic, wasn’t under any requirements to let everybody know,” Hammock went on to say.
Mayor Pro Tem Bill Godwin said Tallassee had no authority over the prison location.
“The city did not make the selection. We couldn’t pick the prison site if we wanted to. This is from the governor’s office,” Godwin said.
Despite having no authority on where the prison is built, the city said they plan to take full economic advantage of it.
“This is going to be located off Rifle Range Road, in our utility district, right outside the city limits. We are going to make lemonade out of lemons,” Hammock said. “I personally don’t have a problem with it.”
“I’ve had real estate developers beating down my door since this announcement. It’s going to be huge,” Hammock went on to say.
Hammock also said it would maintain the counties nearly $30 million in payroll brought in already by Elmore County’s existing prisons.
“I think this is a positive thing for this area because it’s going to be over 700 jobs,” Hammock said. “We didn’t lose these jobs to another county two hours away where these people would have a long commute or have to find another job or sell their houses and move.”
Godwin said residents who have further concerns should express them to the governor and the Alabama Department of Corrections.
“If I was in their shoes, I would be directing my time and energy toward the governor’s office and try to find out, can it be stopped? Is it already a done deal? Why didn’t you let us know before hand? Those are the people that can answer that question, not us, because we were in the same boat,” Godwin said.
The prison site located off Rifle Range Road is one of three prisons planned for the state. Two other prisons are set to be built in Escambia and Bibb counties.
According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, construction on all three new prisons could start as early as next year.
According to the governor’s office, ADOC plans to enter into long-term leases for the three facilities.