Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.

Columbia County News

Fed Bureau of Prisons listens to the public
2500 bed illegal alien prison still uncertain

The Bureau's Issac Gaston address the small crowd as the hearing began. Columbia County's Good Old Boy effort to keep the meeting under wraps paid off as only a few of the over 70,000 residents showed up for the meeting. Those that did attend stated that next time they would be there with their friends.

The June 30, 2009, public meeting sponsored by the US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons (“Bureau”) ran without a hitch. Mr. Issac Gaston from Bureau’s Site Selection and Environmental Review Branch welcomed everyone to the meeting and explained the site review process. Mr. Gaston said that the Bureau welcomed everyone’s comments and encouraged folks to participate in the Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) process. (See the attached pdf, “Public Scoping Meeting, for more details and maps).

Court Reporter Beth Walker didn't miss a beat as she made the record for the Bureau, where unlike in Columbia County, peoples words really do count.

Mr. Gaston originally called for a three minute time limit, which he ignored and he let folks speak as long as they wanted, as long as they stayed on point. The Bureau encouraged participation and Ms. Beth Walker, Court Reporter, was flown in from Washington to make sure an accurate record was prepared for inclusion in the draft EIS.

Based on discussion during and after the meeting the Observer has learned the following regarding the proposed prison:

     1.    According to the Bureau’s Mr. Gaston, the prison will be able to house up to 2500 prisoners. This is 1250 more than was originally anticipated.

     2.    Neither Mike Harling of Municipal Capital Markets Group, the financing arm of this project, nor Mike Pelletier of Community Education Centers, the prison operator seemed to anticipate the 2500 bed size limit.

     3.    The facility would now create almost 500 full time positions – wardens, officers, office personnel, corrections officers, medical personnel, maintenance workers, etc.

     4.    The original estimate of a fourteen million dollar operations budget will now double to twenty eight million dollars.

Mike Harling of Municipal Capital Markets Group, the money men, addresses the room.

     5.    Mr. Harling’s original estimate of ten plus million dollars in salaries, wages and benefits will now double to twenty million dollars.

     6.    Mr. Harling’s estimates of impact fee revenue do not take into account that due to short sighted thinking by Contractor and Commissioner Jody DuPree and the rest of the County Commission there is a moratorium on impact fees in the county.

     7.    The construction project originally estimated to cost sixty five million dollars should now be well over one hundred million dollars.

Who will the prisoners be?

According to the Bureau, Mr. Harling, Mr. Pellitier, and echoed after the meeting by consultant Bill Bryan, “The prisoners will be minor, low level risk prisoners.”

Mr. Bryan explained to the Observer that Florida doesn’t have a lot of Federal prison beds. He said that a lot of the prisoners will be those “arrested coming into the country through Miami and Atlanta airports.”

Neither the Bureau, Mr. Harling, nor anybody else explained how, if the Feds decided to move half of Gitmo to Columbia County’s new private Federal Prison, this could be stopped.

Two County Commissioners attended the meeting. Neither one spoke.

Jim Poole, the Director of the Columbia County Industrial Development Authority (“IDA”) did speak and curiously, shed no light on the process, nor did he say if the county was in favor of the project.

Dale Williams, Columbia County’s long time County Manager was absent from the meeting.

The County could have planned for a project like this, but they didn't.

Using a hundred gallons a day as a baseline for water usage per person at the proposed prison, the math is simple. Twenty five hundred inmates along with a supporting staff of five hundred will use 300,000 gallons of water a day or 2,100,000 gallons a week. Nobody knows where all this water is going to go or has spoken about where it is going to come from.

In 2006-07, the County Managers personal destruction the idea of a regional utility for Columbia County, along with the County Commission’s stamp of approval and double talk and their most recent bungling of the utility project at Ellisville demonstrates that the present leadership, the “Good Old Boys” of Columbia County are not up to a utility project of this size.

The County has not admitted to doing or receiving any impact studies, economic studies, traffic studies or any studies regarding this project. In a project originally slated to cost $65,000,000 one might have thought they would have done something.

The Observer asked many people this question, “Do you believe that the Columbia County has learned nothing more of this project since July of 2008, the only time they admitted talking about it?”

Most of the answers were unprintable and many of the respondents just laughed. Of course, the names of the respondents have been omitted to protect them from the retaliation which is so easily doled out by the “Good Old Boys” of Columbia County.

In a project of this magnitude, it is time the County Manager and the County Commission came out of the shadows and began leveling with people of Columbia County.

On July 1, 2008 County Manager Dale Williams is purported to have told the board that regarding this project there are more questions than answers.

One year later the County Manager and the County Commission have come up with nothing.



Photos • Links

Scroll all the way down to the important links. Link to the public input form • The deadline for your comments is July 20, 2009

Issac Gaston of the Bureau goes over the rules
and purpose of the meeting.


  • Bailey letter to Ander Crenshaw
  • Federal Register: Notice of Hearing
  • Harling's list of benefits
  • July 1, 2008 Board Meeting Minutes
  • July 1, 2008 letter of support
  • June 30, 2009 - Fed. Bureau of Prisons wants to house 2500 illegal aliens in Columbia County
  • July 2, 2009 - Fed Bureau of Prisons listens to the public - 2500 bed illegal alien prison still uncertain
 • Nov 13, 2009 Com Bailey in the shadows - works to kibosh 100 million dollar fed project
 • Dec 15, 2009 - Debbie Boyd Calls Prison Powwow
 • Dec 18, 2009 - Prison officials address questions, concerns (from the LCR)

  How big is a 2500 bed facility? Click here.  

Ester Meh'sl expression reflected the feelings of
all the speakers as she voiced her opposition to
the proposed Federal prison.

  Let the Feds know how you feel. Fill out this form by July 20, 2009.  

Mike Pelletier of Community Education Centers,
the prospective prison operator address the
gathering as the court reporter Beth Walker

  Learn about prison privatization.  

County Commission Chairman Stephen Bailey
listens intently to the presentations and the
public comments.


County Commissioner Scarlet Frisina concentrates
while IDA Director Jim Poole contemplates.


Pete Collins of the North Central Florida 912
Project voiced his opposition to the project.


Barry Fitterman of the North Central Florida 912
Project voiced his opposition to the project.