This past week, the Ministry of the Solicitor General held another virtual community engagement with over 200 participants regarding the future provincial correctional facility to be built on provincially owned farm-side lands for 2027. These lands are separate and apart from the Kemptville Campus lands.
Since the surprise announcement of this facility in August, 2020, Council has been working hard to:
- accelerate the province’s information sharing and engagement with all members our community, including those opposed;
- talk with a variety of stakeholders familiar with the provincial correctional system;
- pursue acquisition as quickly as possible of surplus farm-side lands that the province doesn’t need; as well as
- ensure that the Ministry bears the full burden for their infrastructure needs.
I recognize there are legitimate questions about the value of incarceration, the proximity of the facility to Kemptville Campus (where my 3 kids happen to attend school), and what happens to individuals once they have served their time. Council has been asking these questions too.
In its latest presentation to the community, the Ministry confirmed that the correctional facility will be located on the back of the lands as close to the 416 as possible. A minimum 200 metre land buffer, the size of two football fields, will be at the front of CR 44. The Ministry confirmed another parcel of land south of Kemptville Campus will be transferred to the Municipality for community driven agricultural use.
There is no doubt that the province has been clear that the construction of a new correctional facility has been in the works for years, as part of their investments in the correctional system in Eastern Ontario. Consequently, we have been focused on decisions about where the facility will be located on the site, the process for North Grenville to secure surplus farm-side lands for community-led agricultural initiatives, and investments in North Grenville’s infrastructure.
Council members value dialogue with all residents and concerned groups. The information about a potential rise in policing costs is a cause for concern, and that is why I have already written the Solicitor General to signal that we have no intention of covering these costs. I will also be initiating a dialogue with other relevant Mayors to lobby for changes to the provincial policy.
The correctional facility will be able to house inmates at different levels of security. This is the case for every provincial facility across the province. It will be built to maximum security standards – and that is a good thing – but the security level of prisons will vary. The facility will house men and women.
I know some are worried about the fate of our downtown, given the proximity of the correctional facility. Since the announcement of the facility, the Municipality has fielded two proposals (unsolicited) for major residential development with hundreds of homes and rental units within a 2.5 kilometre radius of the facility. Both developers are highly aware of news of the correctional facility.
From our perspective, North Grenville stands to lose if Council does not continue to bring a strong voice to these discussions. Here are three areas we have been particularly focused in recent months.
- Community access to surplus farm-side lands: The province has long owned the approximately 182 acres on farm-side lands where they plan to build the facility. Approximately 80 acres of land are likely to be untouched by the facility’s footprint, potentially more. Some of these farm-side lands house old buildings, like the equestrian facility, that could be quite valuable to the community. There is also arable land for potential community or Kemptville Campus agricultural initiatives.
Since the fall of 2020, just weeks after the facility was announced, I began discussions with Minister Steve Clark and, subsequently, Minister Sylvia Jones to request that the surplus farm-side lands be transferred to North Grenville immediately. In June, 2021, the Deputy Solicitor General wrote me to confirm their intention to do so. At the most recent community engagement on November 17, the Ministry stated that they expected the transfer is scheduled to happen in 2022-2023.
- Meeting the future demands for social services: As part of its engagement plan, the Ministry is working with local social services agencies. For many years now, the John Howard Society has supported individuals from Leeds and Grenville who have served time in a jail and are returning to the area, including North Grenville. John Howard is actively participating in ongoing consultations and planning for when the facility is here. The United Counties of Leeds and Grenville has recently provided the Society with funds to support the housing needs of those who need it upon release, and it is likely this arrangement may continue.
There are many other service agencies in North Grenville who will adjust their service levels in anticipation of the facility. These include Victim Services, Leeds and Grenville Addictions and Mental Health, and several education and employment groups.
- Funding for water and wastewater infrastructure: As was stated in June, the Province will cover all costs to design, build, and operate the facility. This was emphasized again at the engagement session. Further, the correctional facility will pay a monthly bill like every other institution, business, and resident on town water. If the facility ties into North Grenville’s newly expanded water treatment facility, they will do so at their cost. The dollar amount is being finalized now.
Council recognizes that the correctional facility is clearly not something everyone welcomes. Nonetheless, we have been pushing hard, insisting that the Ministry take a proactive approach to community dialogue, access to surplus farm-side lands, and planning with community partners. This is a long journey, and there are many steps to go. Council is aware there are many different perspectives on the proposed provincial correctional facility. As Mayor and Council, our job is to plan for all outcomes and ensure that our community is not imperiled through the process, and there are some positives that emerge.