Justice center's next step

Commissioners expected to sign application to fill wetlands

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Routt County commissioners are expected to sign an application today for a permit to fill about 1.5 acres of wetlands at the site of the new justice center.

With the approval, the application can be sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which starts a lengthy process to review the project.

The sooner the application is sent, the better, said Routt County attorney John Merrill.

"We're hoping to have it signed by (today) and that's a big step," Merrill said. "Public comment and agency review periods are built in, so we've got to get that process going."

Once the Army Corps receives an application, it is required to publish a public notice of the application and notify other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Division of Wildlife.

The public and the agencies have a chance to comment on the project, after which time the Army Corps could tell Routt County to modify the project.

Because of the time required for comment and review, Merrill said the permit probably would not be issued until early next year in the best-case scenario.

The timing of the permit is important for the project, which has to be complete by Sept. 1, 2006, according to the court order the county received in December 2002.

HLM Design of Denver, the architecture firm contracted to design the center, is scheduled to have designs of the building finished by March of next year. The design will be half-finished by Jan. 13. Under that schedule, the center could be ready for use by October 2005.

Wetlands cover about half of the 5-acre parcel south of Routt County Jail along Shield Drive in an undeveloped lot within the Curve Development Subdivision. The county has tried to build away from the wetlands as much as possible, Merrill said.

"(We're) proposing to locate as far east on the site as possible so that we can avoid most of the wetlands, but we are still having to encroach somewhat into the wetlands," he said.

Fill dirt will be imported to fill in some of the wetlands.

For every acre filled in, the Corps typically requires a replacement of about 1.5 acres, Merrill said. Those wetlands could be replaced through developing new wetlands on the site where there is now dry ground.

The Corps could take issue with the project if it believes an endangered species is living in the area or if it believes the wetlands are important for certain animals.

Because the lot is surrounded by developments on at least three sides, it's less likely to have those problems, Merrill said.

By replacing the wetlands with others, Merrill said the quality of the wetlands actually could be upgraded.

"You can't say building the building helps (the animals), but by replacing the wetlands and increasing the quality, we think that any wildlife out there probably will not be disturbed," he said.

The justice center is proposed to be about 50,000 square feet, with costs estimated at about $10 million.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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