By Darrell Cole
SPRINGHILL - Both Amherst and Springhill appear to be out of picture as the home of a new 100-cell correctional centre for northern Nova Scotia.
"They're out of the mix," Justice Minister Ross Landry said Tuesday after announcing the province is moving ahead with on jail to replace aging facilities in Amherst and Antigonish. "I want to be cautious in how I say this. We're not abandoning that area, but we're making a decision we believe is in the best interests of all Nova Scotians."
The minister said both Cumberland South MLA Murray Scott and Brian Skabar in Cumberland North championed their areas and brought forward reasons why the jail should be located in Springhill or Amherst. However, he said, the decision came down to economics.
"If government could be all things to all people we'd make different decisions, but we have to make sound decisions based on the financial complexities that we're faced with," he said.
By building one jail instead of two, the minister said the province will save about $5.5 million in construction costs and $1.7 million a year in operating costs.
"This is extra money the province just doesn't have for a second facility at this time," Landry said.
The new $31.3-million jail will serve clients from the New Brunswick border to Richmond County in Cape Breton. It will create about 70 new jobs and the minister said those presently working at the correctional facilities in Amherst and Antigonish will be given an opportunity to move to the new jail when it's built.
No decision has been made about the location of the new jail, but Landry said a number of factors will be considered including cost efficiency, proximity to the busiest courts, 100-series highways and necessary amenities and services.
While there is speculation Colchester and Pictou counties would emerge as the favourites, the minister said he doesn't want to narrow down potential locations because he doesn't want land speculation to take place. Realistically, though Cumberland fails the test geographically.
"We're looking at all our options right now and we're hoping to have communities come forward that have interest and options available for us," he said. "One of the reasons we did it this way is because we don't want anybody speculating on land. We want to get the best deal for Nova Scotians from this process. We're keeping our options open."
He has advised Transportation and Public Works to hold onto land acquired from the Town of Springhill for the site of the proposed North Nova facility in case it can be used for something else at a later date. He gave no indication what that something else could be.
Since the previous Conservative government announced the $18-million North Nova facility back in the spring, the province has spent about $40,000 preparing to build the new jail in Springhill.
Part of that planning will be used in the new facility with construction expected to begin sometime next year.
By Darrell Cole