The new US prison is expected to become operational in January of 2010 and there is room for another federal prison on the same site.
Browning, a longtime member of the West Virginia Legislature and original Hatfield-McCoy Trails board member is the senator for the 9th district, but he grew up in Mallory and graduated from Man High School. He and his family reside in Oceana.
"It's always good to come back home," Browning told members of the Rotary Club of Logan on Sept. 9.
Senator Browning said the $200 plus million federal prison project is a monumental achievement for Wyoming and McDowell counties. The construction phase for the first prison created around 400 temporary jobs and the prison itself will employ around 400 permanent employees when it goes online. Browning told Rotarians he hopes that a second federal corrections facility will be built nearby on the Industrial Park site.
"In 1997, we started looking for a place to create an industrial park," Browning said of the projects origin. The McDowell County Commission had some extra funds to invest in the project and purchased hundreds of acres from a land company for an industrial park. They got back their initial $2.7 million purchase price by selling timber rights from the property.
"At that time, there were many proposed prison projects in our area, including one on the Wylo mining site in Logan," Browning said. "Most of them were for private prisons. The main difference between a private prison and a federal prison is that with a federal prison the federal government comes in and pays for everything."
Representatives for the project went to Washington to speak with lawmakers like Nick Rahall, Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller to get support for the proposal. In 2000, ground was broken for the nearby Coalfield Expressway.
"There was a site on the property that had some coal near the surface," Browning said, explaining that the Department of Highways entered a public-private partnership with a coal company to move surface dirt and rocks for the road project from the industrial park making the coal mineable for the Blue Stone Coal Company.
"We never called it a coal mine, we called it an economic development project and believe it or not, there were less environmental restrictions on us because of the designation," Browning said. "It left flat land for an industrial park and a prison."
The prison was approved in 2005 and ground on the project was broken in 2006.
Browning said that now the physical property for the prison is completed he and others are working on getting a second prison project going on the developed site. The current prison sits today where a highwall mine was once located. Former US Bureau of Prisons executive Jim Jones was hired to work as a consultant on the project. Jones was in charge of the Big Sandy United States Prison in nearby Martin County Kentucky in the late 1990s, which also created 400 temporary jobs in construction and over 400 permanent full time jobs.
The McDowell US Prison was a $240 million investment in Southern West Virginia, Browning noted. It is located on the border between McDowell and Wyoming Counties. The facility sits on 300 acres of property.
"We have enough property there for another prison," Browning said.
He noted that the hiring process has already begun and that there will be around 100 experienced Bureau of Prisons employees transferred to the new facility and around 300 new employees to be hired from West Virginia. Browning pointed out that a USP is like a small city and that there will be job opportunities for corrections officers, clerks, secretaries, supervisors and more. The facility has room for 1,200 inmates.
"The prison is hiring people right now," Browning said. "It employees people from a five to six county area."
To be eligible for a job in federal corrections an applicant has to be 37 years of age or younger, have a clean police background and good credit.
"This is a big jolt for the economy in that area," Browning said, admitting that there is a bit of a shortage in nearby housing for the federal employees. "This project is the result of a lot of very hard work from a lot of people and mountains and mountains of paperwork."