First Posted: 7/29/2009
A Surry County delegation achieved face-to-face meetings with numerous state legislators Tuesday during a visit to Raleigh, which its chief organizer called the best trip so far to market this area as a prison location.
In a related development, local officials are said to be close to securing a site for the proposed correctional facility, a key requirement in a community being chosen for a prison. We are closer than ever to selecting the land, said Dean Brown of Mount Airy, who has been heading a prison-recruitment committee since the movement to seek the facility began last year.
And it may not be long until we have an announcement, Brown added Wednesday of the property acquisition.
Though state budget woes could prevent another penal institution from being built in the near future, Brown and other prison supporters want to keep Surry Countys desire for the facility fresh in the minds of those wholl make the ultimate decision.
Tuesdays visit to the state capital was the latest in a series of lobbying trips, and is considered the most productive.
It went great, Brown said. It was the best trip weve made.
He added that its goal was to gain direct contact with as many state senators and representatives as possible. Another objective was to maintain an upbeat attitude to those contacted, rather than focusing on the dire unemployment locally which a 1,000-bed prison providing 400 to 500 jobs would help alleviate.
State officials seemed to appreciate that approach at a time when they are struggling with an economic crisis caused by the recession and job losses across North Carolina. Were glad to see a smiling face, Brown said members of the local delegation were told time after time Tuesday.
In addition to Brown, who is a member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, the group included city Planning Director Jeff Coutu; Jan Critz, vice president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership; Carmen Eldridge of the Workforce Development Center at Surry Community College; and Chris Knopf, assistant Surry County manager for economic development.
We talked to at least 50 senators in person, Brown said. Rep. Darrell McCormick, who serves portions of Surry County, loaned the delegation his legislative assistant, who helped introduce the group to various lawmakers.
We shook hands with about 50 percent of the representatives, Brown added of the other body in the state Legislature. Written material about Surry Countys suitability for a correctional facility was supplied to staff members of those who werent contacted directly.
When the recruitment process first began last fall, representatives with the state prison system told local officials that along with public support, one of the main factors in a community receiving a facility was site availability.
A relatively flat parcel of at least 150 acres, served by public water and sewer facilities, must be donated to the Department of Correction in order to be seriously considered.
The budget changed all that, Brown said of the shortfall facing officials in Raleigh. And thats really worked to our benefit.
But after months of extra exploration, local officials have a parcel in mind, according to Brown. Its acquisition would depend on engineers with the state prison system reviewing the property to assure it would be suitable for a correctional center.
Brown declined to identify the specific location of the targeted land. Its not in the city limits of Mount Airy, he said. Its close to Mount Airy, but its not going to infringe on any housing developments or anything.
The land-acquisition portion of the local prison-recruitment effort is being spearheaded by Craig Hunter, the chairman of the Surry County Board of Commissioners. Hunter would only indicate Wednesday that officials were still pursuing a couple of possible/potential options.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.