SCI Retreat closing could have a negative impact on local economy

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NEWPORT TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A community-wide effort is underway to keep the doors of SCI Retreat in Luzerne County open.

The state announced plans Wednesday to close the prison. The closing means the loss of more than 400 jobs. The state says they must close SCI Retreat to cut costs and save taxpayer dollars. But many people in Luzerne County fear the closing could devastate the local economy.

“400 jobs. 400 good-paying jobs exiting our township, nothing good can happen,” Newport Township manager Peter Wanchisen said.

Wanchisen says the closure of SCI Retreat, which is located in the township, could send the township into a downward financial death spiral.

“People live here. They stay here, travel through here. They buy things, not to mention the tax base being negatively impacted if in fact this decision is followed through,” Wanchisen said.

Many of the corrections officers stop at the Food Express on Route 11 which is just several miles from the prison.

“In the morning when the guards are going in, we are the only place that’s open 5 a.m. so they are in here before their shift, after their shift, in the afternoon, every shift. They do a bunch of business here. They are good guys. We got to know them and everything. Yeah, it’s going to hurt us,” Food Express manager Lorraine Lavelle said.

Stookey’s Barbeque is also a hot spot for SCI Retreat employees.

“We get a substantial amount of take-out business and family business from the employees that are ending up working down there,” owner Ralph Frank said.

Lawmakers estimate that SCI Retreat brings in at least $40 million to the local economy. They are mobiling the community to fight the closing.

Public hearings will be held before any final decision is made by the state. The first is set for October 17. The time and location have not yet been set.

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