In the latest development in the Prescott Jail story, on Friday afternoon, the legislative office of Representative Noel Campbell, issued a Press Release expressing “serious concerns” about “potentially dangerous” environmental and health issues at the proposed jail site. Prior uses of the construction area include a lumber mill, an auto repair and commercial truck parking facility, an electric substation, and a shooting range. All of these activities involve the use of toxic chemicals and known carcinogens that have leached into the soil. Rep. Campbell’s concern is that unless the area is properly remediated, they present a potential health risk to correctional officers, construction workers, inmates, and other staff who might work at the proposed jail facility. “A jail is a residential facility”, Campbell notes. “Employees and inmates will have prolonged exposure to whatever health risks may be present.”
In an October 15th letter to Mr. Misael Cabrera, Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), Rep. Campbell cites numerous letters from constituents expressing concern about the adequacy of the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment conducted for the new proposed jail site. Campbell’s letter references a recent study conducted by a private environmental engineer who has identified numerous inadequacies and unanswered questions in the environmental site assessment on which the county relied in approving the jail project. Copies of both Campbell’s letter and the attachment itself were furnished to Prescott eNews and have been reviewed in connection with the preparation of this article. They are reprinted below.
In his letter, Campbell states that he has been “besieged” with constituent letters and phone calls expressing alarm at the lack of transparency in the approval process and “the speed at which the county is moving forward with the project before all questions have been clearly and honestly answered.” The letter refers to the construction site as a “brownfield adjacent to an unmonitored landfill.” There is no known history of environmental remediation. Disturbing the site by bulldozing the soil and digging a foundation for a massive concrete and steel jail structure creates a risk of rupturing underground storage tanks and the possibility of chemical contaminates and gases leaching into Prescott’s groundwater supply.
Critics of the proposed jail have noted that Prescott markets itself as a retirement community and a tourist destination. One of our most important selling points is a healthy environment. Jail opponents are asking why the County Board of Supervisors is putting this at risk by building on a brownfield? Until we know definitively that building on this location is safe, the county is proceeding at their own risk.
Campbell notes that at full build out with 600 beds, the jail will have hundreds of employees. Many hundreds of inmates will cycle thru the facility every year. The potential liability for anyone affected by the once toxic site will be an open and shut case. Campbell suggests that “even if the risk was low, the potential liability is so great I firmly believe that no one in the private sector would touch this site.” Any potential liability would be borne by county taxpayers. But now that the environmental risks are known, it is possible that the county Board of Supervisors could be stripped of the qualified immunity government officials normally enjoy for decisions made in good faith. The law provides that if a government official knows something is wrong and they do it anyway, they may be held personally liable.
Representative Campbell’s press release was issued late Friday afternoon and too late for county officials to respond. Prescott eNews will update readers as the story unfolds.
Rep. Noel Campbell’s letter and Attachment A is reprinted here: Letter and Attachment