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article imageKentucky prison project opposed — Threat to wildlife and people

By Karen Graham     Aug 6, 2015 in Environment
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Human Rights Defense Center have sent letters to the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, opposing a new maximum security prison in Letcher County.
A draft environmental analysis prepared by the federal Bureau of Prisons has revealed the new prison would subject the surrounding communities to the prison's wastewater discharges as well as putting the inmates at risk to contaminated water.
The new prison would also destroy about 700 acres of wildlife habitat that includes habitat for two federally endangered bat species and dozens of state-protected species, including the eastern hellbender, Kentucky red-backed vole, and sharp-shinned hawk.
The gray bat (Myotis grisescens) is listed as federally endangered and listed by Kentucky as threatened. The Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) is listed as endangered by both the federal government and the state of Kentucky, according to the draft environmental impact statement issued in February 2015.
“Kentucky’s leaders need to take a stand to protect forests, waterways, and wildlife from this sprawling new prison,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These endangered bats give us crucial ecosystem services by controlling insects, and this project could destroy the little habitat they have left.”
The  Highlands Section of the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail in southeastern Kentucky  in Letcher County...
The Highlands Section of the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail in southeastern Kentucky, in Letcher County near the town of Whitesburg
Smell N Roses
Letcher County will become part of a continuous Appalachian prison town
Eastern Kentucky is plagued with a collapsing coal industry and little in the way of economic prospects. But at a public meeting held in Letcher in March this year, residents were given a wonderful picture of the good life if the new 1,200 inmate maximum security prison was to be constructed in their county.
It is not known, for sure, if residents knew they would become part of one long, continuous prison town. The names of the prisons are well known to most of us, and include: Red Onion (Cebolla Roja), Wallens Ridge (Wally World), Martin County Federal Prison (Sink-Sink), along with a dozen other facilities.
Wallens Ridge State Prison - Big Stone Gap  Virginia - Google Earth
Wallens Ridge State Prison - Big Stone Gap, Virginia - Google Earth
Thousand Kites
The push for the prison can be blamed on U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, and if he has his way, the rumble of trucks laden with coal will be replaced by prison buses bringing the incarcerated to prison. He probably hasn't told people that construction jobs will be few and far between, because the new prisons today are pre-fabricated, with the construction done off-site.
And many people looking for jobs as guards and other positions will be out of luck, too. Federal guidelines are fairly strict regarding age, ability, and seniority. That is the reality of having a prison in your backyard. Actually, Letcher County will have a town with 1,200 people sitting next to them. It will be a town with water contamination problems and wastewater issues.
Water and the quality of that water will be another big problem. Most people in Letcher have wells. The prison is to be built on top of land that was used for mountaintop coal extraction. The region has been left with the impact of problems with heavy metals, acid-mine drainage, and contaminated runoff.
“Instead of spending half a billion dollars to construct a new facility that will create hazardous conditions for people and destroy wildlife habitat, we need to reform our prison system,” said Panagioti Tsolkas, director of the Human Rights Defense Center’s Prison Ecology Project. “We hope Kentucky’s state agencies will oppose this project in order to protect the well-being of the public and the environment.”
More about kentucky prison, Maximum security, environmental threat, Water quality, prison reform
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