Sollers Point prison plan denounced

Federal, state officials meet with Turners Station residents about proposal

`This is not a rally, this is a fight'

Temporary legislation expected to block facility for a year, Mikulski says

December 19, 2003|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

In a political tour-de-force, federal, state and Baltimore County officials jammed a Turners Station community center yesterday and strongly denounced a proposal to build a federal maximum-security prison on the doorstep of the historic black neighborhood.

"We're here to talk about fighting," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski told an energized group of about 30 residents from the east-side community. "This is not a rally, this is a fight."

It was vintage Mikulski, passionate, banging her fist on the lectern and engaging everyone in the room.

Showing a fiery style similar to 30 years ago when as a Baltimore City Council member she helped stop a prison ship from docking in Baltimore's Canton neighborhood, Mikulski told residents she expects the prison plan will be blocked for one year with temporary legislation, and permanently with a follow-up bill to be introduced next year.

Mikulski also promised that she, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and the entire Maryland congressional delegation would meet with U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to voice their strong opposition to the prison plan.

Last month, U.S. Justice Department officials said they are considering proposals to build a privately run prison on Sollers Point in Dundalk, or on three sites in Prince George's County. The Baltimore County site is just south of Turners Station and in the path of an ambitious waterfront revitalization effort.

Correctional Services Corp. of Sarasota, Fla., has proposed a 1,750-bed prison that would house people suspected of violating federal immigration laws and others who have been charged with and convicted of crimes.

The Justice Department has indicated that it will be sensitive to input from communities and public officials. Hearings on the proposals could begin as early as next month.

Jorge Martinez, a department spokesman, said last night: "We're aware of the concerns about the site selection, and we want to have a good working relationship with Congress and to be responsive to the needs of the community."

Turners Station residents said they liked what they saw at yesterday's meeting.

"Look at all this political power today here in little Turners Station," said Courtney Speed, a community activist. "We have the juice now to defeat this prison plan, and it feels wonderful. We have to hold up our end, too."

Dunbar Brooks, another community leader, added, "Washington needs to know that Turners Station is a historical black community that does not back down from a fight."

Mikulski and the other officials said they wanted a strong show of unity in opposition to the prison and in support of Turners Station, one of the aging east-side enclaves working toward revitalization.

Mikulski was joined at the meeting by Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., Dels. Joseph J. "Sonny" Minnick, John S. Arnick and Michael H. Weir Jr., and Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

"It was totally asinine for the federal government to handle a major project like this without telling anyone involved," Arnick said. "People in Turners Station are good, solid people."

Mikulski drew loud cheers when she said the federal government tried to sneak the prison into Dundalk "in the middle of the night" and described it as a "sweetheart deal" that would benefit a private contractor.

News of the proposal shook the Dundalk area, once the heart of Maryland's steel and shipbuilding industries.

After a report about the prison proposal appeared in The Sun, Mikulski and Sarbanes wrote to Ashcroft demanding that all four sites "be immediately withdrawn from consideration."

That letter has gone unanswered, Mikulski said yesterday.

In a legislative sleight of hand, Mikulski inserted into the fiscal year 2004 Commerce, Justice, State appropriations bill a provision that would block the Office of Detention Trustee, a division of the Justice Department that oversees privately run prisons, from building a facility in Maryland.

But Ruppersberger went a step further and this month introduced legislation that would prohibit the Justice Department, not only the office of trustee, from constructing a prison in the state.

Three prison sites in Prince George's County -- Brandywine, East Gate and Cheltenham -- also were proposed, but officials and community groups there have also raised objections.

The site being examined in Baltimore County is on the Sollers Point peninsula, where the Patapsco River and Bear Creek converge. The 101-acre property, near the tollbooth for the Key Bridge, is owned by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

BGE officials say they have not been contacted about the prison.

Two years ago, a national urban design team offered a vision for Dundalk that included new infrastructure linking the community with Baltimore and a string of marinas and residential villages along the 45-mile coastline.

A cornerstone of that plan is Key Quay, which would be built on Sollers Point and feature a cruise ship terminal, hotels, a new sports arena, homes and a water link to the Inner Harbor.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.