August 11, 2008

Emerald, city officials further discuss planned detention facility

August 11, 2008 12:31 pm

Deal could be finalized by late Nov.

By Lacie Morrison

Representatives of Emerald Companies came armed with a new proposed building design and aspirations of having a deal closed by Thanksgiving when they met Thursday evening with city officials and the Mineral Wells Local Government Corporation.

Emerald Correctional Management Chief Operations Officer Steve Afeman and Hull Youngblood Jr., of K&L Gates LLP, spoke at length of a newly designed detention facility to build on property along the Mineral Wells Municipal Airport’s runway and their hopes to have the paperwork and agreements in place with the two entities by the end of November.

“Our goal is to be here every two weeks. There will be a lot happening,” Youngblood told the group. “The purpose is to house Texas and Federal detainees arrested in Texas. It can house other people but that is its intent.”

Emerald Companies approached city officials more than a year ago with a proposal to build and operate a detention facility for illegal immigrants, where they would be temporarily housed prior to deportation.

The city would act as the authorizer, assigning user agency contracts to the LGC, which would in turn enter an operations and development agreement with Emerald Companies, according to material presented Thursday.

“The building is owned by the LGC. Emerald can’t make any alterations without the LGC’s consent,” Youngblood said. “They can’t convert the dorms into 24 single cells.”

Showing a new building design, Afeman pointed out different aspects of the facility, including a “huge hospital within the facility” with negative air pressure and a kitchen designed to feed 1,000 people though he said the facility size is 516 beds.

“It’s being designed for every conceivable use,” Youngblood said, though in response to a LGC member’s question about the possible presence of prisoners, he said they would not house maximum security prisoners. “The state wouldn’t send a maximum security to a private [facility].”

The location they displayed was along the airport, rather than a 60-acre tract owned by the Industrial Foundation. The 60-acre tract does not have direct access to the airport’s runway.

When Mineral Wells City Manager Lance Howerton asked about the rational for utilizing the airport site, Youngblood said it was the opportunity for expansion and “what’s attractive to ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is the access with the airport.”

Emerald Companies provided the LGC and city officials with the initial version of a feasibility study about Immigration and Customs Enforcement Dallas Field Office’s need of beds and the possible capacity for the proposed detention facility in Mineral Wells.

Afeman told the group that their facilities’ average occupancy in three years has been at “97 to 98 percent … 70 percent of which are ICE. It gives you an idea of the market.”

As they discussed aspects of lease agreements, development agreements and establishing points of contact, Youngblood estimated closing in 90 to 120 days.

“My goal is to get this closed before Thanksgiving,” he said.

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