The Western Prison Project is preparing to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice demanding a thorough and comprehensive review of a new state prison in Lakeview, Oregon. Approximately six million in federal funds will be applied to construction costs of the $27 million facility. The group plans to seek a temporary injunction halting construction of the prison until a full assessment of environmental issues is done. Citing the threat to local residents' water and other issues, the group is demanding a full environmental review of the proposed prison in a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Justice.
"Since day one of this proposed project, local residents have been vocal about the fact that the state has done a dismal job of assessing the severe environmental and human impacts of this prison on the community," said Brigette Sarabi, Executive Director of the Western Prison Project, which would be the lead plaintiff in the suit. "The biggest threat is to the water supply of the residents of Lakeview. But other concerns, including issues of solid waste, transportation, and geothermal resources have simply not been addressed. We're asking for a full review of the impacts of this proposed prison on the local community, something that should have been done years ago."
The proposed Warner Creek Correctional facility has been in the works since 1996 as part of a massive $1 billion prison expansion program for the State of Oregon, when six proposed prisons were sited in the space of six months under Oregon's emergency "super siting law."
"Despite strong objections from local residents who have more than once voted they don't want a prison, the state has aggressively gone forward with plans," said Sarabi. "It's a remarkably bad location for a prison and the people there don't want it. Because local residents, including several members of Western Prison Project, have been consistently shut out of the process, we are forced to take this major step on their behalf."
Under current contracts with the Town of Lakeview, the prison has priority for local water usage in one of Oregon's most arid regions. The contract stipulates that in the event of shortages, the prison comes first. In addition to the negative impact this is likely to have on current residents, it could prevent future residential and business development in the area. In addition, the local landfill is already near capacity and slated to be closed with no plans in place for a new landfill.
"There is a very real threat that the prison will strip the city dry of water and require local taxpayers to pay for a new landfill. These are just two of the many potentially devastating impacts of this project," said Sarabi.
In December, the U.S. Department of Justice refused to require a full Environmental Impact Statement and said there would be no significant impacts to the local community, despite receiving many letters from concerned Lakeview residents asking for a full review of water, solid waste, transportation issues, and other issues.
Former Governor John Kitzhaber halted plans for construction of the Warner Creek Correctional Facility in 2002. But Governor Ted Kulongoski brought the project back last legislative session.
"As has been the case since this prison was sited, the residents' concerns have not been addressed in any meaningful way. It's time for both federal and state governments to address these issues," said Ms. Sarabi. "We're talking about severe impacts to the lives of local residents. These citizens deserve to have these issues reviewed, especially when it is clear that a strong majority of them believe their lives will be negatively impacted by the building of this new prison."
For more information on how to stop the prison industry from taking Oregon contact:
Wester Prison Project
PO Box 40085 Portland, OR 97240
(503) 335-8449 /// fax (503) 232-1922