Whitesburg KY

Prison OK’d; property purchases come next

Construction of the proposed federal prison at Roxana could begin in 12 months.

U.S. Representative Harold “Hal” Rogers said the Bureau of Prisons will begin buying the land that will comprise the 700-acre site of the new prison, which will take roughly a year. The BOP will also begin to work with local officials on infrastructure improvements that may be needed to support the new prison, he said.

Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward said the state will most likely have to widen KY 160, and the prison will need water and sewer.

“That’ll be up to the water board whether they bring (sewers) back to Whitesburg or put in some kind of package plant just for the prison,” Ward said.

The Bureau of Prisons last week approved a record of decision to place the prison in Letcher County.

“… I’m thrilled to announce that we have reached a major milestone toward construction of the Letcher County Prison,” Rogers said in a Facebook post on March 30. “U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called me today to inform me that the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has signed a Record of Decision (ROD), paving the way for construction of a new facility in Letcher County.”

Ward said the decision is “the best news we’ve had in a long time as far as our economy goes. It’s going to be a big shot in the arm for us.”

The prison is expected to create 300-400 permanent jobs and 1,000-1,500 construction jobs for four to five years, Ward said.

He said the next thing needed is training for local businesses to be able to do business with the federal government.

Area business leaders joined together more than 13 years ago to form the Letcher County Planning Commission to work on improving the county.

In 2005, the commission spoke to the Bureau of Prisons for the first time, and representatives of the agency came to the county for the first time in 2006.

Elwood Cornett, co-chair of the Planning Commission, said he hardly knew how to express his feelings.

“I’m very pleased. It took a lot of patience, but it paid off,” he said. “I think it’ll be a good thing for Letcher County.”

Not everyone is pleased with the idea of a prison here. The Letcher Governance Project sprang up in 2016 to protest construction of the prison with the Twitter hashtag #our444million. Its Twitter page was last updated more than a year ago, and its Facebook page was last updated in mid- December.

The project says on its web site that it is made up of local residents and is “against the racist systems that lead to mass incarceration, as well as mass incarceration itself, and advocates for a judicial system based on restorative justice.” The last update of the web page was about the reopening of a private prison in Lee County. The last update about the Letcher County prison was in October of last year.

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