“NIMBY” raises its head again

About 25 people—and two squirrels—made up the audience last night for the Oconee Sheriff’s pitch to build a new jail on the cemetery side of the Law Enforcement Center in Walhalla. Two squirrels, running loose inside the Walhalla Depot building, proved to be a minor distraction as third-month Sheriff Mike Crenshaw tested the waters as to how neighbors would feel about a two-story, 25-foot tall penal facility in their midst. From a handful of those present last night, the feeling once again is not-in-my-back-yard. Which is reminiscent from the county’s failed effort two years ago to build the jail on the other side of the LEC. Mike Wright said he’d like to see the jail built outside town, and he thinks the county’s Echo Hills industrial park on highway 11 would be an excellent location. Last night, however, there were a couple of neighbors and others Walhallans who spoke approvingly of what Crenshaw has in mind. And that caused some debate among meeting attendees. The sheriff started his presentation by handing out a colored aerial sketch of what the pod of 192 jail beds would like. That sketch also showed a berm and a line of trees that Crenshaw said would help reduce visibility and noise. One of the neighbors’ chief complaints is a visible recreation yard, from which they say they hear vulgar language. But Crenshaw said the new jail would be designed for an open-air recreation yard within the complex, surrounded by prison walls. Crenshaw said he doesn’t intend to pursue a jail that neighbors do not want. But he said he has marked his calendar to make a similar presentation to Walhalla leaders the night of April 16. Many of those city leaders drifted into last night’s meeting, following a City Hall get together to discuss a streetscape project.