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Williams said he told Lynch at that Monday morning meeting that any decision regarding selling water would have to be made by the town council, rather than the mayor acting alone.
Williams said he had gotten some calls in the previous week that made him think something was up.
"I started getting calls with people saying that they were closing the Prison Farm," Williams said.
The following night, Williams showed up and sat quietly at the Guilford County
Board of Commissioners meeting. He said he went to that meeting because of rumors that Guilford County
was closing the Prison Farm. He said he wanted to see what, if anything, the commissioners were going to do.
That night, Williams told The Rhinoceros Times that he didn't know exactly what to think of the project. He said he had just heard the proposal a day before, and he said town officials were just beginning to study the cost of the project and the effect it would have on Gibsonville and the surrounding area.
Williams said hundreds of new jobs would certainly be welcome. However, he added, residents in the area were very concerned about the huge increase in truck traffic that would come with the project.
He said residents who live on the roads the trucks would use to get to the interstate – largely Gibsonville Ossipee Road, Manning Avenue and University Drive – were the people with the greatest concerns.
Williams said some roads would have needed to be widened to accommodate the truck traffic, and he added that a nice dog park and children's park had recently been built along that route.
According to Williams, NC 61 would have been heavily used by the trucks as well.
Williams also said he lives right on the path that the trucks would take and he spoke with his family that Monday night and asked them how they felt about 500 to 700 more trucks a day coming down the street.
"Right now we get 10 or 12 Sonoco trucks that go by," he said.
He also said he'd heard that, if Gibsonville didn't want to supply the water, Burlington might have been willing to extend water to the site – though he added that would have been very expensive. He said he'd heard it could cost about $5 million to run water from Burlington to the Prison Farm site the company was considering.
The proposed facility would have required an estimated 140,000 gallons of water a day and the mystery company was asking to buy the water at the same rate that Gibsonville charges it own residents. According to Williams, rough initial estimates were that that might mean an additional $150,000 in revenue for Gibsonville each year.
Gibsonville buys its water from Burlington and pays $2.76 per unit (1,000 gallons). It then sells that water to Gibsonville residents at $4.90 per unit, and sells it to customers outside the Gibsonville town limits at $9.80 per unit.
All of those high-intensity, hurried discussions about water and infrastructure are moot now.Guilford County
Sheriff BJ Barnes said Sheriff's Department officials had been moving quickly to accommodate the project. Barnes said he didn't know what company it was, but he added that many members of his staff had been trying to guess ever since his department caught word of the big plans. The guesses ranged from Wal-Mart to Sam's Club to Costco to Sheetz.
Barnes added that he was familiar with the code name that economic development officials used to refer to the project: Swordfish.
Barnes said he was at a sheriff's function out of town when the Sept. 11 closed session took place, but he did participate in that closed session by telephone. Barnes said he's always in favor of what's good for Guilford County
and he will do what he can to promote jobs; but he said that in hindsight it certainly looks like the economic development people got ahead of themselves.
The sheriff said the commissioners might not be so eager to accommodate Lynch's requests in the future.
"The next time he goes in there to ask for something, some commissioners will say, 'We've heard this before, this is just one more pie-in-the-sky project,'" Barnes said.
One reason a lot of these questions are unanswered, Lynch said, is because the county decided not to fund a Prison Farm development feasibility study he proposed to the commissioners about eight months ago.
Lynch said that study would have cost between $30,000 and $100,000, depending on how comprehensive the approved version of the study was. He said a good study would include soil borings, soil composition tests, infrastructure analysis and more.
He said that the next proactive step – providing water to the area in hopes that some future tenants may come – was certainly a harder sell, since that could be a very expensive endeavor with no guaranteed payoff.
Lynch said that, now that the county had lost a very big fish it had on the line, the commissioners might be willing to reconsider funding the study so the county could be better prepared when the next big opportunity arises.
"I would say, let's learn from this," Lynch said.
He said he was still optimistic that about 750 acres of the Prison Farm could eventually be transformed into a thriving industrial park.
Lynch said that getting land rezoned was a difficult process that took time because it required public notice and a public hearing and a contentious rezoning with appeals can extend the process further. He said that, in some other areas across the country, land for such large projects had already been rezoned in anticipation that an opportunity such as this one might arise. He said that, in cases where a company wants to get up and running very quickly, having potential sites already rezoned with infrastructure in place would be a big selling point.
Yow said that there were a lot of negatives no one was talking about. He said it would have cost a great deal to, among other things, move the Prison Farm on very short notice.
"It would have been a rush job," Yow said, adding that that certainly would have increased the cost of relocating the Prison Farm operations.
Yow also said the county would no doubt either give away the 150 acres needed by the company or sell it to the company for a song, and then the county would give three to five years of incentives so the project wouldn't make money for taxpayers for years.
Yow said that, when the money is factored in to move the farm operations and enhance infrastructure, the deal would have turned out to be much less appealing than first billed.
According to Yow, it's misguided to criticize the three commissioners who voted against moving the Prison Farm. He said the irresponsible ones were the other commissioners who voted to move the Prison Farm that had been in place without knowing the cost of any of the major details of the project.
Alston said he still thinks the Prison Farm property would be an ideal location for a large industrial park, and he said that, when future opportunities come up, the county would be wise to be prepared.
"We need to go ahead and work out the zoning and work out the water," Alston said. ...continued on page 3