Prison unlikely to be built near Petersburg

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

By Karen Hall


Concerned residents filled the meeting room at Petersburg Town Hall last week, when a meeting about building a prison in the area followed the regular meeting with Lincoln County commissioners for the 2nd District, which includes part of Petersburg.

Rumors about the prison have been circulating wildly in Petersburg for the last few weeks, even to the point some people believed land had been purchased and ground broken at a site on Liberty Valley Road.

Marshall County Sheriff Norman Dalton was on hand to set the record straight.

"There is no one from the state who said a correctional facility will be built here," said Dalton. "It was just a conversation between two people. I asked (Vice Mayor) Kenneth Richardson if in the future, would the citizens of Petersburg be interested in having a prison built here?"

Dalton went on to explain if a town wants to be the site of a prison, the town has to write a letter to their County Commission, requesting them to pass a resolution to write to the Commissioner of Corrections inviting TDOC to take a look at the area.

"If you want your name in the hat, it will be," Dalton said. "It's just getting your name out there. If the majority are for it, we will do what we can to help you. It's what the citizens want, but it's something you may want to look at."

Lincoln County Sheriff Murray Blackwelder pointed out a prison could be a big boost to the economy. He spoke of a two-year construction period, with all the jobs that would generate. People would rent or buy homes in the area, and then there would be 500 to 600 jobs at the prison.

"People here for sure don't want it," exclaimed Mayor James Owen. "It's got everybody upset. People are dead set against it right now."

Many residents at the meeting had searched the Internet and found studies showing a prison was not beneficial to its local area, causing property values to decline, failing to bring in jobs and home buyers, and not benefiting local merchants.

"We're not saying it's all good," said Blackwelder. "I'm not saying either way is the right way. We don't know. It's for the people of Petersburg to decide."

Blackwelder went on to say he didn't think TDOC would be looking for a new prison site any time soon. In his opinion, they were more likely to expand in Bledsoe County, where the state owns 2,200 acres around the prison.

"The odds are 99-1 against a new prison being built anywhere in Tennessee," he said.

Nevertheless, Blackwelder said he and Dalton could use the Sheriffs Association to find out from other county sheriffs what the impact of a prison in their county had been.

"Open your mind and look a little bit," Blackwelder recommended. "Then, if you're out, you're out. You're not in contention right not, so you don't have to worry about keeping it out."

Owen said he wished as many residents would come to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen's regular meeting, as had showed up when they heard something controversial was going to be discussed.

"The town of Petersburg is everybody," Owen said. "Not just me, not just the board. It's going to take everybody in the area to work together. Everybody has a say-so."