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Report on prison is ready

An Economic Impact Statement ( EIS) required before a federal prison can be constructed in Letcher County is now complete and will be available for public viewing beginning Friday (February 13).

In announcing the publication of the impact statement, the federal Bureau of Prisons also announced that a public meeting will be held in Whitesburg next month to give local citizens the chance to offer their input on which of two locations would be best for a proposed United States Penitentiary and Federal Prison Camp in Letcher County.

The meeting will be held at Letcher County Central High School on Thursday, March 12 between 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. On the agenda is whether citizens believe the penitentiary and prison camp should be located on a 584-acre site at Roxana or on a 753-acre tract at Payne Gap near Jenkins.

The meeting will be the first held here by the Bureau since August 2013 when the agency announced it would be preparing the statement (EIS), which is required by federal law before the “acquisition of property and construction of a new” penitentiary and prison camp can begin.

According to a public notice appearing in this week’s edition of The Mountain Eagle, draft copies of the Environmental Impact Statement are available for public viewing at the Harry M. Caudill Library in Whitesburg, the Blackey Public Library, the Jenkins Public Library, and the Lillian Webb Memorial Library in Neon. A draft copy is also expected to be available for viewing at www.fbopletchercountyeis.com.

The Bureau said the public notice announcing the availability of the EIS and the scheduling of the public meeting begins a 45-day comment period that will end on March 30.

“During this 45-day public comment period the Draft EIS will be available for public review and a public meeting will be held to provide the public an opportunity to speak with project representatives and provide written or oral comments,” the notice says.

This week’s notice will come as welcome news to members of the Letcher County Planning Commission, a volunteer group of business leaders, government officials and private citizens who for more than 10 years have been working with U.S. Representative Harold “Hal” Rogers to bring a prison to the county.

According to the Planning Commission, the prison, if built, could be expected to employ as many as 450 people. Federal regulations require that 65 percent of those employees come from Letcher and other counties in southeastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia. Annual pay for a Bureau of Prisons correctional officer averages $45,547.

As of Tuesday night, copies of the EIS were still not available for viewing. However, some observers have been saying for the past several weeks that Payne Gap appears to be the favored location because it would have access to water and sewer services from the City of Jenkins.

Civil engineer Paul Nesbitt told the Jenkins City Council in November that the Bureau of Prisons has indicated that it would like to build on a site that will have police and fire protection, which gives the Payne Gap site near Jenkins an advantage over the Roxana site. He said if the BOP does decide to locate at Payne Gap, it would probably require a great deal of work on city sewer lines and may require enlarging the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

More than 450 people attended the meeting organized by the Bureau in August 2013.

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