Originally created 09/12/98

Blackville's prison blues 091298 - The Augusta Chronicle



Isn't it time for the Blackville, S.C., group opposed to building a maximum security state prison in their community to turn their attention to the politicians who authorized it?

They're losing the legal fight at every turn. This week Circuit Judge Henry Floyd dismissed their suit to block construction of the 1,500-bed facility, ruling that the Town Council was well within its rights to OK the prison and to issue a $340,000 revenue bond to upgrade the town's utilities (to be recouped by user fees).

This means, ruled the judge, that the citizens' group cannot sue the state agency or the town for their roles in bringing the prison to Blackville.

Now the anti-prison coalition hopes the judge will at least require town officials to grant their request for a referendum -- even though the vote would have no legal standing regardless of which way it went.

The hope, says Larry Hunter, one of the lawyers representing the group, is that if the people voted down the prison, the state Department of Corrections would make good on its promise not to build a prison in a community that didn't want it.

But prison officials, basing their decisions on the Town Council's actions, paid $438,500 of state taxpayers' money for the Barnwell County property and are too much committed to the project to turn back now.

Besides, what's the sense in spending money on a special referendum that's not binding? If the Town Council has done wrong, then the best way to deal with it is for voters to turn pro-prison Council members out of office at the next election.

There's no guarantee, however, that will happen. The prison may have more public support than the coalition believes. After all, with 500 new jobs, it will become one of the largest employers in both the town and county.