Federal prison project wins final approval

Published 3:16 pm Monday, April 2, 2018

Federal officials have approved a long-discussed plan to build another prison in eastern Kentucky, sealing a deal to bring hundreds of jobs to an area hard hit by the loss of coal work.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers said he was notified Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Letcher County project had cleared a final hurdle with federal prisons officials. The Republican congressman said the project will be a “long-term economic shot in the arm” for the region.

“With funding in place and the completion of environmental studies, today’s announcement is a tremendous milestone for Letcher County and the surrounding area,” Rogers said Friday.

Email newsletter signup

Rogers, who has long championed the project in his Appalachian district, said action by the Federal Bureau of Prisons officially signaled its intent to move forward with the project.

The prison is expected to have 300 to 400 employees, Rogers said. A 700-acre site on reclaimed mine land in Roxana was selected for the facility by federal officials.

Next up is land acquisition, which could take about a year, Rogers’ office said. Federal officials also will work with local leaders on infrastructure improvements to support the new prison.

Plans call for the facility to house about 1,200 male prisoners.

The announcement comes as the area’s economy has been reeling from a big downturn in the coal sector.

“We certainly need the job growth around here since the coal industry has dried up,” Letcher County Jailer Don McCall said Saturday in praising the announcement. “I think it’s going to be a real economic boost for our little area.”

Rogers said the project also will help ease overcrowding at other federal prisons.

It could take four to five years to build the prison, but an estimated 1,000 or more construction jobs will provide a quick boost for the area’s economy, Letcher County Judge-Executive Jim Ward told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The prison project had drawn resistance from some local residents uncomfortable about connecting the county’s economy to a prison.

Rogers was the driving force behind landing federal money for the project. He secured an initial $5 million in the federal budget in 2006 to search for potential sites. The veteran congressman steered nearly $500 million needed to build the prison while he was the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The Letcher County project marks the fourth prison that Rogers had helped bring to his district during his time in Congress. The others are in McCreary, Martin and Clay counties.