The site chosen for a new Vigo County jail ranks ninth for suitability among 10 proposed properties, with the county industrial park 10th, according to Terre Haute mayoral candidate Pat Goodwin.
The former city engineer, who is running as an independent, hosted a jail forum Monday night at the Vigo County Public Library that was attended by more than 80 people.
Goodwin kicked off the event by listing the sites, most of which county commissioners have rejected. He said the existing location at the city-county government complex is most suitable, based on such factors as acreage, cost, central location, environmental remediation, distance to courts, infrastructure and impact on neighboring property.
The most suitable site, according to Goodwin’s analysis, is the existing city-county government complex. That conclusion reflects an update of an analysis he did earlier in the debate over a jail site when several more sites were considered, he said.
Goodwin outlined a plan for a new jail, sheriff’s office, city police station and new or renovated City Hall by using the current government complex plus newly available property recently vacated by the Honda dealership at First and Ohio streets. The plan would also allow development of “Turn to the River,” an initiative to link downtown with a riverfront park.
While county commissioners did not attend the forum, several city council members were there ahead of a vote on rezoning the Prairieton Road site. Two of them noted city finances remain limited.
“The issue about the current government complex property, if that requires significant investment from the city’s standpoint, we don’t have a lot of money with which to do that,” said Earl Elliott, who chairs the council’s finance committee.
Councilman and mayoral candidate Karrum Nasser said he doubts the city will be able to afford a new police department building Mayor Duke Bennett has been planning for several years.
“One other issue that the commissioners have to deal with is they’ve got regular reports to a federal judge they have to give about the progress they’re making,” Elliott said. “I certainly wouldn’t want to be in that position.”
While commissioners say the current location lacks sufficient space for a new, larger jail, Goodwin noted the jail planned for a controversial site on Prairieton Road covers only three acres and could fit on a site adjacent to the current jail. The rest of the planned 20-acre site is for parking and other purposes.
Existing jails in Monroe, St. Joseph and Allen counties, ranging from fewer than 300 beds to 1,200, sit on sites of between one acre and 4.5 acres, according to Goodwin.
“Can you change these commissioners’ minds? No. It ain’t gonna happen,” said County Councilman and Commissioner-elect Brendan Kearns. “They are hell-bent on getting something [done]before Dec. 31 … because Jan. 1 there’s a new sheriff in town and there’s a new commissioner.”
Kearns was the only current county official attending the forum, though County Councilmen-elect Chris Switzer and David Thompson were on hand.
The question of potential contamination at the Prairieton Road location, site of a former International Paper plant, also came up.
Scott Lawrence, who said he worked at the plant for 20 years as a contractor, told of several locations on the property where hazardous chemicals were dumped.
“My understanding is they have not done a complete environmental assessment,” Goodwin said. “I think what we’re hearing tonight is that they’re likely to find some surprises.”
Goodwin and Lisa Spence, president of the Vigo County Taxpayers Association, suggested moving forward at the existing site would demonstrate forward progress on efforts to address unconstitutional jail conditions cited by a federal judge in a pending lawsuit.
Dave Taylor can be reached at 812-231-4299 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarDave.