Northumberland County Prison May Move to Plan B

SUNBURY, Pa. — While site work is already underway on land previously selected to house the new Northumberland County Prison, several county commissioners continue to seek more convenient alternatives.

Northumberland County purchased the original 22-acre site, which was once home to the Knight-Celotex manufacturing plant, for $2 million from Moran Industries of Watsontown, Pa. An environmental report following the purchase revealed that multiple areas of concern — such as a trench drainage system with standing water, railroad ties used during fracking operations and a former lagoon that once held processed discharge water — would need to be addressed.

Following recent EPA testing, however, the site was deemed fit for new construction. The county has already invested more than $1 million in the site, and a groundbreaking event took place in December 2015. Officials announced recently that more significant work on the project would begin in March.

Despite this progress, three commissioners earlier this month expressed their desire to build in a different location. Newly elected Commissioner Kym Best told WYOU WBRE News that she and other commissioners will not disrupt work currently taking place, however, as it is the county’s responsibility to remediate the former industrial lot regardless of whatever is eventually built there. Commissioners also discussed putting the project on hold, but decided to move forward as significant funds had already been invested in site testing and improvements.

“I’m looking at [sites] that would knock out all transportation costs,” Best told WYOU WBRE earlier this month. She added that a strategically selected site could reduce the county’s transportation costs to roughly $100,000 per month.

Best also told the Sunbury Daily Item that board members are considering a “Site B,” but declined to give more specifics as to the site’s location and benefits. She did add that the board needs more information on the site to see if it is “a viable option and makes financial sense.” Final word on the project site is expected in early February.

Should work continue as initially planned the new prison and work release center will occupy more than 8 acres of the former Celotex site. The prison is expected to include 90 cells with a maximum capacity of 300 inmates. Construction will cost an estimated $35 million, making it the most expensive public project in the county’s history. Community residents should expect to see a $45 tax increase to help pay for the project, but commissioners promise the new facility will save money in the long run. Work is expected to wrap up on the new facility, should all go according to current plans, in spring 2017.

An estimated $7 million of the project budget will also come from insurance money collected after the fire that ripped through the former county prison, which was built in 1876, in January 2015. Afterwards the facility and was deemed a total loss, and the county is currently paying roughly $500,000 per month to house inmates in neighboring facilities.