Letcher County prison organizers see continued support, opposition

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Published: Sep. 27, 2023 at 4:46 PM EDT
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ROXANA, Ky. (WYMT) - Plans for a medium-security federal prison in Letcher County have been in talks for years.

After a public meeting in November about the prison, folks in opposition continue to be concerned about the facility.

More than 185 organizations joined in sending a letter to Congress asking legislators to pause fast-tracking plans for the prison, which would be located in the small town of Roxana.

“There are a lot of concerns. Humanitarian, environmental, legal, water quality downstream from a sewage treatment plant big enough to serve a prison that size. Some elderly people in the area have safety concerns,” said Artie Ann Bates, who is a member of the Concerned Letcher Countians group.

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Bates said the meeting was unexpected for some folks because it was only a few months after the July 2022 floods.

“It was only two months after the flood last year that we were told that we were gonna be getting this prison. So, it’s almost like kick-you-while-you’re-down type thing,” she said.

However, community leaders that spoke with WYMT said committees and the Bureau of Prisons have been meeting since before the flood.

“We were in meetings well before the flood. It just so happened that the first public meeting happened a couple months after the flood had hit. So, public perception wise, people thought that we were using the flood as a tool to push this project forward, and that’s just not the case,” said Pine Mountain Partnership Executive Director Jeffrey Justice.

Rep. Hal Rogers released a statement to WYMT saying studies have ensured the prison would benefit the area.

“The planning and work to build a federal prison in Letcher County has continued over the span of nearly 17 years. During that time, every possible study has been conducted in Roxana, along with an abundance of public comments and thorough reviews from every angle. Last year, the Bureau of Prisons issued an updated construction plan for a medium-security facility and prison camp, utilizing the same location in Roxana, with the same footprint of acreage in Letcher County. It only makes sense to reuse the studies, comments and reviews that have already been conducted, when possible, to save taxpayer dollars. It’s time to pave the way forward so that BOP can build the safer, modernized facility it needs. Since the funding was designated for prison construction in 2016, the BOP must use the funding for that purpose, whether it is in Kentucky or another state.”

- U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice & Science