State

New federal prison in Eastern Kentucky wins final approval. 300 jobs expected.

The preferred site in Letcher County identified by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for a high-security prison is a spot at Roxana that was flattened by surface mining.
The preferred site in Letcher County identified by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for a high-security prison is a spot at Roxana that was flattened by surface mining. bestep@herald-leader.com

Federal officials have cleared the way to build a large prison in Letcher County, capping years of efforts to make the project a reality, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers said Friday.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told him Friday that the Bureau of Prisons had finalized the “record of decision” approving the prison, Rogers said.

“It’s a done deal,” said Rogers, who has worked to push the project.

The Bureau of Prisons has said the prison would house about 1,200 male prisoners, most in a high-security facility behind walls and an electrified fence, but some in a minimum-security camp.

The agency chose a site at Roxana leveled by surface mining as the spot for the prison.

The project has opponents, including residents uneasy about tying the county’s economy to a prison and groups opposed to the nation’s incarceration policies.

However, a local planning group initiated the idea of bringing a federal prison to provide jobs, and more than 2,000 people submitted comments or signed petitions in support of the project, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

Letcher County’s economy has been battered by a sharp drop in coal jobs since 2011.

Rogers said the prison will create more than 300 jobs, benefiting the entire region.

“It’s going to create a lot of good jobs in the heart of Appalachia, the heart of coal country,” he said.

The facility also will reduce overcrowding at other federal prisons, Rogers said.

Letcher County Judge-Executive Jim Ward said he’d been told it could take four to five years to build the prison, though the economic impact will start with an estimated 1,000 or more construction jobs.

The prison will also help boost the housing and retail economies, Ward said.

“It’s made a lot happier Easter for me,” to learn the project is a go, he said.

Opponents have argued that the Bureau of Prisons didn’t adequately assess the environmental impact of the prison, but Rogers said the agency went to extra lengths to study those issues.

The next step in the process is to buy land for the prison. That could take several months, Rogers said.

Rogers initially got $5 million in the federal budget in 2006 to search for sites for the prison. Congress ultimately put $444 million in the budget to build the facility.

The Trump Administration last year proposed rescinding the money. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reportedly said the administration felt the facility was no longer needed.

However, Congress preserved the funding. It has since added $50 million more; the total cost of the project would be about $500 million, according to Rogers’ office.

The prison would be the fourth Rogers has helped bring to the district since being elected in 1980. The others are in Clay, McCreary and Martin counties.

There also is a federal prison in Boyd County and a federal medical prison in Lexington.

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