September 20, 2014

Bureau of Prison Officials to move forward with environmental impact study

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STANDISH — Federal Bureau of Prison officials said Wednesday, Aug. 18., they will be moving forward with a environmental impact study for the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility to determine if the prison could be expanded for federal use.

Richard Cohn, chief of the capacity planning and site selection branch of the Federal Bureau of Prisons said they are very interested in the prison.

“The facility is vacant. We toured the facility one time and found it to be in good condition,” he said. “The Federal Bureau of Prisons is in need of high and medium security capacity to decrease overall crowding,”

Cohn said right now the Bureau of Prisons has approximately 211,000 inmates combined across 115 federal prisons.

If the Bureau were to purchase the prison, they would need to expand. Chon said a high security federal prison will house 960 inmates. While it was operating, Standish Max could hold around 600 inmates.

“There is a need for us to construct a minimum security camp outside the secure perimeter of the institution,” he said. “There also has been talk by our agency, should we acquire the property, of putting in an additional housing unit.”

He said the housing unit would go inside the secure perimeter of the facility’s property, or be external to the current property and be used for work crews or inmates who can be placed outside of the prison.

Cohn said that when federal dollars are being committed to a project the bureau is required to follow the National Environmental Protection Act regulations.

“They stipulate that we either have to do an environmental assessment, when there is an existing location, or we have to do an environmental impact statement,” Cohn said. “Now there already an existing location here, but because the facility is semi-surrounded by wetlands in the west and because the facility is 20 years old, and we wish to expand, we are required to complete an environmental impact statement.”

Cohn said he was not given any information regarding rumors the the Federal Bureau of Prisons would require a half-mile radius around the outside of the prison. He did say that expansion of the property is a possibility. Both Cohn and Bridgette Lyles, site specialist capacity planning and site selection branch, met with 27 property owners to gain their permission to perform an environmental impact study.

“Our purpose for (talking) with homeowners is (because) right now we are in the pre-scoping phase,” he said. “We toured the facility; we realized that there are property owners who butt up to the property line of the existing facility, and we wanted to include those property owners in the environmental impact study process, so that we can survey the prison property. We wanted their permission to have access to their property.”

Cohn said permission was given by all property owners to survey their property.

“Somewhere down the line we will be employing an environmental firm, who will conduct the environmental impact study, they need access to property so that they can take soil samples, see if there are endangered species or wetlands out there. We are just trying to obtain a right of entry permission from those property owners,” he said.

Cohn said the environmental impact statement process takes between 12 to 18 months to complete and a decision to purchase the prison would not be made until after the survey is finished.

“It starts with a public scoping meeting, and we introduce the contract,” Cohn said. “Then we do the study; we create a draft document.”

He said they will allow the general public to comment on the document at meetings.

Cohn added that he felt the reaction of the property owners was generally positive.

“They bought their property there. They knew the prison was there. They seem pleased with the former operation,” he said. “I think they just needed to be educated on how the Bureau of Prisons operate our facilities.”

Cohn said the community has been receptive of their visit.

“Standish has opened its arms to us,” he said. “This is a nice area, and a nice community.

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