Leavenworth Could Be Site for Future Prison

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — Leavenworth could be the home to a new federal prison if all inspections go according to plan.

The project is currently in its preliminary stages and a draft EIR with a 45-day comment window has recently been submitted. No additional comments will be accepted for review after Jan. 3, 2012.

“If we get any comments, which I anticipate we will, it could require additional work and then we’d fix what needs to be fixed before completing a final statement,” said Richard Cohn, chief in the Capacity Planning and Site Selection Branch for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Cohn expects to have a final record of decisions by December 2012, after a potentially long process of drafts and revisions.

If the site is approved, additional funding would be required for construction and operations for the federal prison. No amount has yet to be determined.

Plans call for building the new prison on the grounds of the existing U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth.

The prison would house about 1,500 medium-security inmates. The proposal also includes a minimum-security camp for up to 300 inmates.

The city of Leavenworth has been holding town hearings to discuss the environmental impact of the project as well as the opportunities the project could provide. According to Mayor Mark Preisinger, the federal prison system provides solid employment for the city.

“We anticipate 300 to 400 federal jobs,” said Preisinger. “There’s not one person in this town that’s lived here more than a year or so that does not know someone who works for the federal prison system.”

The prison plans are receiving welcoming words from residents in Leavenworth who depend on the facility for employment, which would include construction jobs if the facility eventually wins approval.

“The general reaction from the community is very supportive. There haven’t had any objections and they are generally in favor of the project,” said Cohn.
During a town hearing attended by 22 people, no one spoke a word of opposition about the potential prison.

“I know that Leavenworth is very much in favor of this,” said a Leavenworth resident. “I know it will be an economic boon.”

The prison will benefit not only the town of Leavenworth but also the north-central region of the United States. In the 12-state region, there currently are no federal prisons located in North Dakota, Nebraska or Iowa. Leavenworth is the only such facility in Kansas.

“This is especially important within the north-central region of the United States, where the need for additional bed space is a serious concern,” said Bridgette Lyles, site selection specialist, Capacity Planning and Site Selection Branch for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Although there was no opposition to the project, some concerns were voiced at the meetings.

John Kaufman, town member and general manager of the Leavenworth water department, raised an issue regarding a plan to harvest rain water in the new facilities and offered the city’s assistance in putting together specifications for water quality. Other concerns voiced included the prison’s lighting impact; the current facility gives off a lot of light and town residents wanted officials to recognize the issue and take considerations to reduce the lighting projecting from the new prison.

Town members are not the only ones welcoming in the new prison. Currently, 11 buffalo graze the western part of the prison grounds. According to Preisinger, the bureau owns them but the townspeople have adopted them.

“We will make room for the buffalo,” Preisinger assured.

Definitive plans for the facility have not yet been approved and will undergo additional review prior to choosing a design and construction team for the project.