Several New Brunswick municipalities are now vying for the provincial jail that was abruptly pulled from Fredericton in May.
Arcadia, Woodstock, Nackawic and Grand Lake have all asked for the jail to be built in their respective municipalities, each presenting merits they believe make theirs an ideal location.
Back in December 2022, the planning advisory committee with the City of Fredericton rejected the rezoning proposal, and council heard from many concerned residents in Lincoln Heights – a neighbourhood just 1,100 metres from the proposed site.
Residents said they were concerned about proximity, increased crime, construction traffic and decreased property value.
During public hearings later in December, at least 100 people filled the chamber’s upper gallery waiting to hear the decision of Fredericton city council – with them voting 7-4 in favour.
But on May 29, a three-paragraph media release was issued by the Department of Justice and Public Safety, saying “the provincial government has decided not to build a correctional facility within the City of Fredericton.”
Since then, other communities have submitted their requests to Public Safety Minister Kris Austin.
“We’re in a very central location between Fredericton, Saint John and Moncton, great access (to) the Tran- Canada Highway, we have a number of services, two medical clinics,” said Arcadia mayor Derek Pleadwell.
He said the economic opportunity is what is driving the municipalities to ask, and said the logic around wanting to cut transportation costs means Arcadia is the ideal location.
Pleadwell said Arcadia is a mere 30 minutes from the previously desired location.
“We have 820 square kilometres of land,” he said. “Private, public, and Crown available. For those reasons, we looked at it and said ‘We could be in this.’”
Pleadwell has not heard directly from the minister nor the department on his letter.
Woodstock has also made the ask.
Mayor Trinia Jones said while the area is a bit further from the original location proposed, Woodstock has an active courthouse and already serves as a transportation corridor for the Madawaska and Saint John regions.
It is exactly two hours each way.
“For both those facilities, we’re already a midway stopping point,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “There is an opportunity out there for the province to look at our area as a cost-savings measure.”
She said she watched the public hearings in Fredericton and understood the concerns from residents and felt that because of the rural nature of the area, it could be placed strategically enough to not impact any major residential neighbourhood.
“There is already a lot that exists that makes sense,” she said. “I do know it was very controversial … I think it will really depend on where it is located. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Jones has not heard directly from the minister or the department.
Nackawic-Millville has asked to be considered for the location twice. Mayor Tim Fox said it reached out when the jail was first planned for Fredericton in case it didn’t work out. It did so again when the provincial announced it quashed a plan to put the jail in Fredericton.
For Fox, it is about the efficiency of the location, being both closer to Fredericton and Saint John than some other locations.
“We’d like to be considered along with the rest of the communities,” he said in an interview.
He pointed to the nearly equal distance between the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre and the Madawaska Correctional Centre.
The new municipality is also poised with new housing developments, he said, meaning it could continue to grow stock for those working at the facility.
He, too, agrees rural areas are better positions for correctional facilities to be placed because they can be a good distance from residential areas.
Fox drew a comparison to the Atlantic Institute – a maximum security prison – located in Renous, N.B. He said the community works with its federal counterparts to make the location safe and minimize risk to residents who do live nearby.
Renous is also where Arcadia Mayor Derek Pleadwell used to live, adding he generally felt safe living in proximity to the prison.
Fox has not heard from the province since sending the letter either.
Fredericton seeks to recoup costs
Transportation of inmates and overcrowding have been the rationale behind the need for a sixth provincial jail.
Data provided by the province shows the jails weren’t overcrowded at the time it was announced, but Public Safety Minister Kris Austin said in April the system has been over capacity at times in 2022.
Since the province backed out of building in Fredericton, there has been little communication on why it happened months after concerns were originally voiced and what changed in that time.
The City of Fredericton said the process to rezone the Vainer Industrial Park “consumed considerable staff and council time and also caused significant anxiety for some residents in the area.”
“As part of this process, the city and the province had reached a general agreement for the province to purchase the land,” the statement from the city read. “Now that the provincial government has decided not to proceed with the land transaction, the city will work with the province to recoup any related costs.”
It also said in the statement that it would look to work with the government to complete the land preparation “to ensure other industrial opportunities can be pursued.”