Grand Lake makes pitch to get new jail after province withdraws from deal with Fredericton

Grand Lake Mayor Kevin Nicklin says he's written to Justice and Public Safety Minister Kris Austin asking to build the jail in his community after the province decided not to build it in Fredericton. (Aniekan Etuhube/CBC - image credit)
Grand Lake Mayor Kevin Nicklin says he's written to Justice and Public Safety Minister Kris Austin asking to build the jail in his community after the province decided not to build it in Fredericton. (Aniekan Etuhube/CBC - image credit)

The mayor of Grand Lake says he wants to see a new jail built in his community after the province abruptly scrapped plans to build one in Fredericton.

Kevin Nicklin said he's written to Justice and Public Safety Minister Kris Austin, whose riding includes Grand Lake, asking him to choose the municipality as the site for a new provincial jail.

"As far as I'm concerned, the municipality of Grand Lake would love to have it," Nicklin said.

"We're centrally located. We have the availability and the space in our industrial park. We have water and sewerage, and road and fire hydrants are already down in that area."

Nicklin said Austin has so far only written back to acknowledge the letter.

Nicklin's pitch to see a jail built in Fredericton comes days after the Department of Justice and Public Safety issued a brief news release saying it will no longer build a jail in Fredericton following concerns raised by the public over its planned location in the Vanier Industrial Park.

"The government is now looking at a location outside the city to minimize any perceived impact upon residents," the release said.

Austin wasn't made available for an interview Wednesday, with a department spokesperson saying they have nothing further to add.

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

Austin's provincial riding includes the municipality of Grand Lake, which was recently created through local government reform by merging the communities of Minto and Chipman.

Austin's riding office is located on Main Street in Minto.

No other site yet selected: Higgs

Premier Blaine Higgs on Wednesday attended a news conference about the forest fires in the Saint Andrews area.

Answering questions from media, Higgs didn't provide more information about why his government pulled out of the deal with Fredericton, but said no alternate site has been selected.

"There was significant opposition to the location that had been cited, and so at this point, we are looking for options in areas that may be more receptive to having it in their community."

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

Asked what the chances are that it will go to Grand Lake, Higgs said the jail could still go anywhere.

"I don't have any site in mind. I don't know of other sites that could be possible solutions, but at this point in time [the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure] is looking at other locations."

When the new jail was first announced for Fredericton, the province said it was needed to accommodate a growing provincial jail population.

Nicklin said building the jail in Grand Lake would make sense both for the province and for the municipality.

He said the province already owns land in the industrial park in Minto, and the area is close to a medical clinic.

He said there would be spin-off benefits, including jobs that would need to be filled to staff the jail.

The jail's construction would also spur economic activity, and once completed, it's expected that employees would spend money at local shops and restaurants, he said.

Fredericton wants to 'recoup' costs from province

The New Brunswick government announced it would build a new jail in Fredericton in the fall of 2021, but the exact location remained unknown until last November, when Fredericton city council agreed to sell the province a 25-acre plot of land in the Vanier Industrial Park for the jail.

Aidan Cox/CBC
Aidan Cox/CBC

A rezoning process by council was met with intense opposition in January from residents of the nearby Lincoln Heights neighbourhood, who packed city council chambers to voice concerns the jail would reduce their sense of safety, and lower the value of their homes.

Mayor Kate Rogers had welcomed the jail's expected construction in Fredericton, and council ultimately approved the rezoning for it in a 7-4 vote.

In an email Tuesday, city spokesperson Shasta Stairs said the process "consumed considerable staff and council time and also caused anxiety for some residents in the area."

Stairs said now that the province has decided not to buy the land, the city will work to "recoup any related costs" from the province.

CBC News asked for an interview with Rogers about the province's decision, but Stairs said she was out of town and unavailable to comment.