Friday, July 19, 2013

And the sites are ...

Here in the patch, we got word a few weeks ago that the prime site for any new Fayette County Prison was going to be the Joe Hardy Connellsville Airport.

Based on two recent stories in the Tribune-Review, we are now prepared to say that our source has pretty good insight.

First came a story noting that the airport authority has a $100,000 operating deficit, which could swell by another $50,000 in the next six months.

"We have to figure out ways to increase our income and reduce our expenses," was the assessment from airport board chairman Fred Davis. "We have been working diligently to turn our financial situation around."

Then came today's story, in which Fayette County Commission Chairman (and Davis pal) Al Ambrosini revealed the three sites named finalists by the "prison working group" put on the task by Ambrosini and fellow Democratic commissioner Vincent Zapotosky.

Those sites are: A 100-acre parcel in Georges Township near Route 43, owned by Scott and Allen Whyel of Farmington and available for $850,000; a 30-acre parcel at the Joseph A. Hardy Connellsville Airport in Dunbar Township, available for lease at $35,000 a year; and a 77-acre site on the county's fairgrounds in Dunbar Township.

We're pretty sure we can save Abrosini and Zapotosky at least part of the $24,000 they agreed to spend to study the prison issue.

First off, who in their right mind would include the Fayette County Fairgounds on any such list? Ever been to that location in, say, the last week of July or the first week of August, when the county's biggest event is being held? Traffic is a nightmare, and the state police are required to help a steady stream of drivers get onto and off of Route 119. In the event of any type of emergency at the prison, the potential travel delay would be unacceptable.

And we won't even go into how fairgoing parents might feel about sending their children to the fair when dangerous prisoners are potentially being transported along the road leading past the fair's immense parking lot (which, by the way, would make an excellent place to hide or get lost in the crowd in an escape attempt).

Here's how we predict this playing out: It comes down to buying the $850,000 Whyel property versus the $35,000 airport rental. And the logic will be that it makes better sense to pay the $35,000 rental to the cash-strapped (and mismanaged) airport authority, because at that rate it will take 24 years to get to $850,000.

And someone will throw in, for good measure, the argument that this financially helps the airport, while representing further growth along the Route 119 corridor.

We still have this question, though: If a 30-acre parcel at the airport is in the running, why would the "prison working group" need to include a 100-acre parcel (the Whyel property) on its list of finalists?

Why would you buy 70 more acres than you need, for any project? The asking price for the Whyel property is $8,500 an acre, so buying 30 acres would cost only $255,000.