Most public comments on Routt County's application to fill wetlands at the site of the new justice center do not concern impacts on wetlands, according to a response letter the county completed Tuesday.
Those opposing the permit to fill 1.4 acres on the site south of the Routt County Jail prefer the original downtown site "based on various business development reasons, not protection of wetlands," the letter states.
The letter, signed by county commissioners, addresses most of the 52 public comments received by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding the county's plan to build the justice center west of downtown Steamboat Springs.
Of public comments opposed to the permit, 44 were based on a form letter with four main points, the county's letter states. No more than five of the people submitting opposition comments attended a series of public meetings last spring to determine where the justice center should be located.
"The number of comment letters does not accurately reflect community opinion on the issue," the county's letter states.
The letter defends commissioners' decision to build the justice center near the jail and rebutted main points brought up in the public comments to the Army Corps.
First, the letter reads, the heart of the issue is the price difference between building the justice center downtown versus near the jail. Building near the jail will cost about $3.5 million less because a parking structure does not need to be built; a simpler, less expensive building design can be used; and it's less difficult to stage construction, according to the letter.
That difference in costs is important because the 50,000-square-foot building already is estimated to cost about $15.3 million. That price tag has forced the county to make budget cuts including elimination of capital projects such as double chip-and-seal projects on gravel roads and reconstruction of Routt County Road 14.
To comments that the downtown site is a "practicable alternative," the county responded that because it is under court order to build the justice center by Sept. 1, 2006, changing the location now would take too much time and cost too much.
To comments that the location near the jail contradicts the spirit of the 1995 Steamboat Springs Community Plan and would create economic hardship on downtown property and business owners, the county's letter states such issues do not address wetland protection.
The county also addressed comments that the proposed site would destroy significant wetlands unnecessarily by citing its efforts to impact as few wetlands as possible, to maintain surface water quality through a site drainage system and to replace wetlands at a 1.5-to-1 ratio.
"In summary, we believe that the comments clearly indicate that the opposition to the (Shield Drive) site is primarily, if not almost completely, for reasons other than a concern for wetlands protection," the letter states.
Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan said the letter addresses all of the comments well.
"I'm confident our permit is going to be approved by the Corps," Sullivan said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will review the county's response and then make a final decision on whether to grant the permit.
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