U.S. Bureau of Prisons holds "Open House Public Scoping" meeting in Letcher County | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

U.S. Bureau of Prisons holds "Open House Public Scoping" meeting in Letcher County

The Mountain Eagle reported earlier this year and last week about progress on a federal prison in Letcher County. Last week, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced it is “initiating a 30-day scoping process to identify community concerns and local issues that will be addressed in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).” 

“As part of the EIS public participation process, the Bureau will be holding an open house public scoping meeting to obtain input from the public on what should be studied in the EIS...The meeting will be conducted using an open house format with informational display and materials available for public review. There will be no formal presentations. Bureau staff will be present at the open house to answer general questions on the proposed action and the EIS process." An EIS is a federally required step before land acquisition or construction can begin.The BOP and local Letcher Co. Planning Commission have narrowed down potential sites to Roxana or Payne Gap.

The meeting was held Tuesday, August 13 from 5:30 - 8:00 pm in the Letcher County Central High School lunch room.

All comments about the EIS will be considered and must be recieved or postmarked by August 26th:

Bridgette Lyles, Site Selection Specialist 
Capacity Planning and Site Selection Branch
U.S. Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Prisons 
320 First Street, NW. 
Washington, DC 20534

After a 2012 proposal from the Letcher County Chapter, KFTC adopted an addition to the statewide platform, stating we "...oppose prison expansion as a form of economic development."

“It's clear we need economic transition in our county and region, but history shows that prisons have not provided that. And, when we talk about transition, we desire a transition that is equitable to all people, not just those at the top.” 

Here are some questions/concerns chapter members have brought up:

  • The stability of reclaimed mined land (in Martin County, the federal prison constructed began sinking into the ground)
  • How much money would the county be paying upfront towards infrastructure costs of the new prison (water, sewage, road work)?
  • Would county citizens benefit from these infrastructure improvements, or would they primarily benefit the prison? Is this the best use of county funds?
  • Who would be paying to acquire the property from the landowners? (will the county be buying it and gifting it to BOP? Will coal companies donate it?)
  • Who will be hired during the construction phase? What kind of certification do these workers need?
  • We don’t have housing in Letcher County to accommodate prison workforce, where will they live? 
  • What percentage of workers initially hired will be from Letcher County? Are county residents given any preference? 
  • What are the job requirements for getting a position there? 
  • Does becoming a “prison town” limit our ability to transition in other ways?
  • Clay (USP Manchester), Martin (USP Big Sandy) and McCreary (USP McCreary), where federal prisons opened in 1992, 2003 and 2004 respectively and continue to rank among the 10 poorest counties in the state...
  • What alternatives have or could be considered for bringing economic development to Letcher Co.?  State Parks, money for better land reclamation, other alternatives supported by this report
  • What kinds of environmental impacts can be expected from a new prison, what kind of effluents will be involved?

This Lexington Herald-Leader op-ed reported that "one 2010 study analyzed data on every rural county in the country from 1969 to 2004 and found no evidence that prison construction leads to economic growth, and furthermore that the poorest counties are the most likely to have a net loss from prison construction."

Further reading, including more background and facts, by Letcher County KFTC members:

Elizabeth Sanders and Sylvia Ryerson are co-founders of the Central Appalachian Prisoner's Support Network, members of the Letcher County KFTC Chapter, and were both active in the planning of Appalachia's Bright Future conference. 

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