Government plans to withdraw approval for Letcher County federal prison

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LETCHER COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) - The federal government is planning to withdraw its approval for the Letcher County prison project.

The Bureau of Prison's plans to rescind the Record of Decision are expected to be announced on Monday.

The Bureau of Prisons' Office of Public Affairs gave the following statement to WYMT:

"On June 17, 2019, the Bureau of Prisons will publish a Withdrawal of Record of Decision in the Federal Register related to the proposed construction of a U.S. Penitentiary and Federal Prison Camp in Letcher County, Kentucky. This document withdraws the Record of Decision published April 12, 2018 and explains that given new information received, additional analysis should be undertaken to determine if there are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns on the proposed action. A re-examination requires that the Record of Decision be withdrawn pending additional environmental analysis.

In accordance with the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Bureau will publish any findings or conclusions related to this analysis, and allow for a public comment period related to the new information and analysis."

The prison project, which was going to be built on former coal mine property, was supposed to create 300 new jobs. A $4.5 million grant was dedicated to the project last September. 

Congressman Hal Rogers told WYMT this is a frustrating delay, but might not be the end for the project:

"The Letcher County Planning Commission and I have worked diligently for nearly 15 years to see this prison come to fruition, and I share the local frustration for this unexpected delay. BOP leadership has assured me that the Bureau will continue to defend the ongoing litigation and that internal processes related to the Letcher prison construction project continue to move forward. Meanwhile, $510 million remains available for construction, as the House Appropriations Committee has again rejected the Administration’s proposed rescission."

Some people in the area hoped the prison would provide an economic boost for their businesses.

"The impact of bearing that the prison may not come to Letcher County is a little bit devastating because I planned on doing that because I wanted to expand my opportunities to bid, not only for milk but anything else that the prisoners needed," said Gwendolyn Christon, Isom IGA store manager

Christon hoped to sell milk and other goods to the prison.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave his own statement about the decision:

“Chairman Rogers and I have made great progress in directing much-needed federal resources to this community. Together, we will continue to work to ensure the Letcher County prison project moves forward.”

Rogers' office said it found nothing to suggest that the Record of Decision cannot be reissued or replaced once the BOP rescinds it.

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