Routt County has received the first of three studies county commissioners hope will bolster their position that the new justice center should be built west of downtown Steamboat Springs.
This first study outlines why a new justice center downtown would mean a costlier, more challenging security system.
That's what the county has been saying all along and is one of the reasons commissioners decided to go west, County Manager Tom Sullivan said.
"It basically qualifies what we've been saying," he said.
To build the new center west of downtown, the county needs a wetlands fill permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps recently gave the county a preliminary denial because the downtown site was a "practicable alternative" in which wetlands would not need to be filled.
However, the Army Corps stated that if three studies -- one on security differences between the sites, one on floodplain issues with the downtown site, and one on parking issues with the downtown site -- show that the downtown site is not practical, then a permit for the western site might be granted.
The study, which was done by Layne Consultants International, highlights seven points related to safety at the downtown site. For instance, transporting prisoners to the downtown justice center poses additional safety risks not present at the west site, where prisoners would walk under a secure tunnel from the jail to the courtroom.
The study concludes that the west of downtown site is "a safer and more practical alternative."
The county wants to build a justice center that will be as safe as possible long into the future, Sullivan said.
The key question to ask, he said, is: "How safe do you want to be? How much risk do we want to place the public in?"
Routt County Sheriff John Werner knew of one instance in the past few years when a prisoner escaped from custody while being transported from the courts back to the jail. The prisoner was found in a nearby Dumpster.
Even though there is not a history of multiple prisoner escapes, the county should plan for the future, county officials said.
The results of the study are what would be expected from a public safety and security consultant, Towny Anderson said. Anderson is the spokesman for Friends of the Justice Center, a group organized to keep the new justice center downtown and so keep investment and jobs downtown.
If federal courthouses decided they did not want to transport prisoners because of safety risks, they would all be moved out of downtowns, a signal that "our democratic institutions don't belong as part of the community any longer," Anderson said.
Copies of the report are available at the county commissioners office in the courthouse annex downtown.
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