Building Prison on Wetlands Site Offer Challenge for Connecticut

Article excerpt

Prisons are often built in out-of-the-way locations, leading to a variety of problems with the site, including even the condition of the ground itself This is the story of how the state of Connecticut and its design team worked together to overcome a problem that threatened a project at its very foundation.

About four years ago, the state of Connecticut purchased approximately 100 acres in Suffield, which is in the north-central part of the state near Interstate 95 and the Connecticut River, to develop a prison site. Soon after, the Connecticut Environmental Protection Agency, a state office of the federal EPA, and the Army Corps of Engineers started an investigation to establish wetlands soils areas of the site. Meanwhile, the state hired a design team to begin work on a 500-bed closed, medium security facility and a 300-bed reception center to be located on the site.

Site Problems and Solutions

The agencies had a difference of opinion regarding the exact amount of wetlands soils on the site. The Army Corps maintained that 58 acres were wetlands soils; Connecticut reported there were 46 such acres. The Army Corps said that up to 10 acres of wetlands soils could be used, although a permit would be required. The design team decided to avoid building on the wetlands as much as possible but that, if necessary, they would use up to the 10 permissible acres.

The design team tried various combinations with the two facilities; after much consideration, they decided to separate the buildings to allow for greater flexibility in construction. The 300-bed facility would be located in the north-central part of the site, and the 500-bed facility would be located toward the rear of the site and be hidden from the highway.

The state of Connecticut decided to clean up and expand some wetlands soils at the front of the site for the purpose of turning them into a nature preserve.

While these plans were developing, Connecticut officials and the design team met with personnel from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New England Division, Fish and Wildlife officials and the EPA to ensure that the facilities would be designed to have minimal effect on the wetlands soils and wildlife. One major decision reached by the agencies was to enhance wetland acres at the front of the site to replace wetland acres used for the prison site.

Environmental Allowances

The design team included a number of environmental considerations in their facility plans. For example, they decided to use a single perimeter fence rather than the standard double fences spaced 20 feet apart. This reduced the extent of the facilities' impact on the site. The team also developed two bridges for the main approach road to allow wildlife to have access to the nature preserves by means of the streams that meandered through the site. …