Justice center options reviewed

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Routt County commissioners are weighing options in the wake of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' announcement that it plans to deny the county's request for a permit to fill wetlands at the county's preferred site for the new justice center.

"We think we'll do some more thinking," Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said. "There are no decisions made at this point and time. We're still considering our options."

County commissioners met in executive session for more than an hour Monday to discuss those options. Commissioners said they are receiving legal advice and would not be more specific.

"We have options, some of which are legal options, which is why, right now, our discussions are confidential," Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

Commissioners did not give a lot of details about what those options could be.

"We're trying to be as vague as we can because we have some negotiating strategies," Monger said.

Monger said the county is "extremely disappointed" in the Army Corps' denial of the permit. The site -- west of Steamboat Springs, adjacent to the county jail -- is the most practical for the proposed $15.5 million, 52,000-square-foot justice center, Monger said.

Building anywhere else, he said, would be a "disservice" to county residents.

The Friends of the Justice Center, a group organized to keep the justice center downtown, and others applauded the Army Corps' decision, which was announced Thursday. Denial of the permit could encourage the county to reconsider building at the original downtown site.

The Army Corps has not officially denied the county's permit to fill 1.4 acres of wetlands. Rather, the Army Corps has given the county 30 days to submit more information about why the permit should be approved, according to a letter the county received. If no new information is submitted, a denial will occur.

Last summer, the Army Corps issued a preliminary denial but allowed the county to submit more information. This more recent decision is in response to those additional studies.

The main reason for denying the permit, Army Corps officials have said, is that the county could build the justice center downtown and not affect wetlands.

No further discussions are scheduled, but County Manager Tom Sullivan said the commissioners might have another executive session next week.

"We don't have much time," Sullivan said, referring to the Army Corps' 30-day time limit for submitting more information.

The county's basic options are to withdraw its permit application or give more information to the Army Corps.

Because an official decision has not yet been issued, the county has nothing to appeal, said Andy Rosenau, chief of the regulatory branch for the Sacramento District. If an official denial were issued, the county would have two months to appeal.

Rosenau said when the Army Corps sent the county the most recent letter it expected a non-legal, administrative response giving more details.

"We would encourage them to provide whatever other information they have quickly," he said.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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