Here’s how a new federal prison could impact environment, economy in eastern Kentucky

Louisville Public Media, 03/13/24: “The Federal Bureau of Prisons is moving one step closer to building a prison in Letcher County despite concerns of locals, activists.

For nearly 20 years, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has been trying to build a new prison on the site of a former coal mine in Letcher County.

The project has drawn pushback from committed activists, sparked litigation and been stymied by shifting federal priorities. But the federal agency moved one step closer towards breaking ground earlier this month by releasing a draft environmental impact statement.

The statement, required by the National Environmental Policy Act, shows the construction and operation of the prison will require excavation that will change the area’s topography, alter the path and composition of streams and wetlands, and displace some wildlife, including protected species. The statement includes the federal agency’s plans to mitigate those impacts and states the prison’s economic impact will be smaller than many supporters have promised.

The document also claims the project has the “consistent, continuous, and unwavering support” from people in Letcher County, including elected representatives and community leaders.

It does not mention the long history of activism against the prison, and some community members and activists from across the country argue the Bureau of Prisons doesn’t want to hear from the opposition, much less include their concerns in regulatory documents.

Members from Concerned Letcher Countians and Building Community Not Prisons, two activist groups that formed this past year to advocate against building a new prison in eastern Kentucky, requested to meet with the Bureau of Prisons twice in 2023 to lay out their concerns. The groups say the prison officials denied those requests, but according to meeting summaries on the Bureau of Prison’s website, the agency did meet privately with the Letcher County Planning Commission, a nonprofit that has been working with the Bureau of Prisons in support of the project since its inception.”

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