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Feds say prison status hasn’t been changed

Despite the insistence of U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers that a proposal to build a federal prison at Roxana is not dead, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons says in a new statement that there has been no change in the status of the project, which was put on indefinite hold two years ago.

Rogers defended the prison construction last week after the proposed budget submitted to Congress by the Biden administration asked that $550 million previously allocated for construction of new prisons be removed from the budget due to a lack of need for new prison space. Instead, the budget proposed $2 million for the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City.

While not directly saying that the prison here will be built, Rogers said in a statement last week that the money is still appropriated and that he “remains committed” to building the prison. He said he would seek an update from the Bureau of Prisons.

According to a statement from the bureau received after last week’s deadline, there has been no change in plans since it last issued a statement in the fall of 2020.

“In FY 2021, the Administration proposed to rescind $550 million in funds previously allocated for new Federal prison construction,” the statement says. “The requirements for funding additional federal correctional facilities are in discussion with the Department of Justice at this time. None of these previously allocated funds are currently being used for any planning or development of utility infrastructure in Letcher County, and its future remains under consideration.”

Though the Letcher County Water and Sewer District is currently planning water and wastewater systems in the Roxana area that were originally planned because of the prison, engineer Alan Bowman with Bell Engineering said the money doesn’t come from the prison appropriation. He said while the proposal for a prison helped secure grant funding from the Division of Abandoned Mine Lands and the Appalachian Regional Commission, the lines have nothing to do with a prison now because that project was shut down. He also said the Bureau of Prisons has had nothing to do with the planning.

“We’re not talking to the prisons at all,” he said. “The money was dedicated to those water lines a year and a half ago.”

The prison project was cancelled in 2019 when the Department of Justice withdrew the Record of Decision to build the prison in order to settle a lawsuit that had attempted to block construction. The budget request submitted by then-president Donald Trump the following year included the following statement, citing the delays caused by the settlement it approved: “The budget eliminates wasteful spending, including $510 million reserved for the construction of a new prison that is unneeded due to the declining prison population, significantly delayed due to the site selected, and very costly to taxpayers.”

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