For the fourth time since his election, President Donald J. Trump has issued a proposed federal budget that would kill construction of a prison in Letcher County, taking with it water lines to homes along Kingscreek and Roxana from Cowan Mountain to Blackey.
While the proposal seems to have little chance of getting past Congress, it does demonstrate a willingness by the administration of try again and again to claw back the money that was appropriated during the final year of the Obama Administration. Last year, the document from the White House specifically said the money would be taken back and used for immigration enforcement.
Congress has rejected the proposal three times, but after the last rejection the administration withdrew the Record of Decision to build the prison anyway in a deal to get plaintiffs dropping a lawsuit filed by prisoners across the country and a group calling itself “Friends of Lilley Cornett Woods and the North Fork.”
The federal budget proposal the White House submitted Monday to Congress again tries to cut the budget for the prison, using, in part, the very delays it created with the settlement to the lawsuit as reasoning for the cut.
“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,” the budget document says.
Elwood Cornett, chairman of the Letcher County Planning Commission, which has been working toward location of a prison here for nearly 20 years, said he remains confident that the money will eventually come here, and said he has been told by Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers that the Record of Decision will be reissued “in the near future.”
“Of course, I get weary with all of this, but so far both Congressman Rogers and Senator McConnell have been able protect the money,” Cornett said.
Bernard Watts, chairman of the Lecher County Water and Sewer District, said the budget, coupled with the delays caused by the withdrawal of the Record of Decision, makes it seem like the project is dead.
The district board of directors hears monthly reports about progress on planning for the sewer plant and water lines in Roxana that would serve the prison, but Watts said the board has had no information about what to expect.
“We are motionless,” Watts said. “We don’t know anything.”
Plans had called for water lines to cross Cowan Mountain and reach Roxana along Kingscreek, and to come out of Blackey and follow the River Road. The two supply lines would connect near the prison. While money for the infrastructure would come from $510 million currently available for a prison, it would also allow the district to provide water to homes in the area.
“We weren’t going to pay up any unserved homes,” Watts said.
Congressman Rogers, Republican, District 5, said the money will remain in the budget.
“This has become an annual exercise by the administration to find avenues to cut overall federal spending. However, it is clear that this Congress supports construction of a new prison in Letcher County, by rejecting the rescission request each year,” Rogers said. “Meanwhile, $510 million remains available for construction and the Bureau of Prisons intends to spend these funds on the project in eastern Kentucky.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office did not respond to a message asking for comment.