Yet more serious questions raised about the proposed prison

Op-Ed

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by Colleen Lynas

News of proposed prison’s wastewater treatment requirements opens up another series of concerning questions. Appreciating that the need for expansion of North Grenville’s water pollution control plant (or wastewater treatment plant) has been known for many years, it was striking to recently read about the additional expansion requirements linked solely to the proposed “Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex”.

Media reports note that between $10 million and $13 million, or up to 33% of the total projected $39.4 million cost of the expansion, is attributable to the needs of the proposed Kemptville prison. The Ministry of the Solicitor General is reportedly committed to paying those additional costs. How could they possibly justify not doing so? However, it is a rather mind-boggling number, given the provincial government’s repeated justification for building on the former Kemptville College farmlands – that utilizing the publicly owned site represented ‘value for money’ for the taxpayers of Ontario.

“Building the complex on this site provides good value for taxpayers, as it avoids the need to purchase privately owned land elsewhere”, wrote Minister Steve Clark in one of his submitted responses to a series of questions provided to him by the North Grenville Times and published on September 23, 2020. This assertion, reiterated repeatedly by government representatives in public forums and media comments, was always misleading, given that Infrastructure Ontario has noted that the new prison will cost up to $500 million over the life of a 30-year public-private partnership to design, build, finance, and maintain the facility. This enormous price tag does not include the costs associated with the public operation of the prison.

And then, there are all the unanswered questions regarding the pressures the prison’s significant infrastructure requirements will place on the system as a whole, and on the municipality’s bottom line. Large infrastructure projects regularly go over-budget. Has the province committed to funding their portion of any additional costs associated with the expansion of the treatment plant? Will the construction of the prison require any upsizing of sanitary sewers to service the development? If so, is this cost reflected in the province’s portion of the expenditures? Are there risks of aquifer depletion, given the increased demand imposed by the prison? Is there a formal contract in place between the province and the municipality, and, if so, will the municipality release it publicly? Assuming a contract exists, has it incorporated the province’s cost obligations should it choose to expand the prison?

The reality of future property tax increases associated with policing the prison came to light by the sheer due diligence of local residents. Site selection details (scant as they are) were brought to the public through a Kemptville resident’s freedom of information request, which is currently under appeal to have more information released. A group of residents have recently submitted freedom of information requests to the province to obtain the results of due diligence activities being performed at the Kemptville College farmlands, including the report on the anticipated local transportation impacts, land surveys, and environmental assessments. Committing to a plant expansion 33% larger to meet the needs of the proposed prison appears imprudent when these basic facts are not yet publicly known.

And then, there is the upcoming provincial election. In a context where it is possible that the Liberals, New Democrats, and Greens will have more seats than the Progressive Conservatives, and that the former have all had candidates, riding associations, or sitting members raise concerns about the selection of the Kemptville College farmlands as the site for a new prison, would it not be wise to await the outcome of the election before binding municipal taxpayers to an expansion that is substantially larger than needed should the prison not be built?

This latest news about the water pollution control plant raises another series of critical questions, and the residents of North Grenville deserve answers. How will our elected representatives choose to respond?

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