The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday gave to Routt County the public comments the agency received concerning the county's request for a permit to fill wetlands at the site of the new justice center.
About 60 comments were received, and many of them focused on the county's plans to build the facility west of the city instead of downtown.
The county will respond to the comments, said county attorney John Merrill.
"We're trying to respond as promptly as we can but making sure we properly respond," Merrill said.
The Army Corps of Engineers encouraged the county to review the comments and propose solutions to objections or rebut objections.
"However, the final decision to issue or deny your application is the responsibility of the Corps of Engineers," said Frisco Regulatory Office Chief Tony Curtis, in a letter to the county. "We will consider all factors of the public interest in making this decision."
If granted, the permit would allow the county to fill about 1.4 acres of wetlands on the 5-acre parcel south of Routt County Jail along Shield Drive. The county has a court order to build the justice center by Sept. 1, 2006. The justice center is estimated to be about 50,000-square-foot and would cost $15.4 million.
Most of the public comments came from Routt County residents and business owners in downtown Steamboat Springs. All but one of those letters urged the Army Corps of Engineers to deny the county's request for a wetlands fill permit.
Three of the comments came from regulatory agencies: the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Those comments said the project would not be harmful or are comments that Merrill said could be resolved.
Letters sent by the city of Steamboat Springs and the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley encouraged the Army Corps of Engineers to deny the permit.
"We have no real agency comments, and the public comments, by and large, are essentially the same," Merrill said.
The form letter sent by most residents and businesses contained four arguments for why the Army Corps of Engineers should deny the permit.
First, the form letter said, the county misrepresented a previously considered downtown site. When voters turned down a mill levy to build a justice center downtown in 2002, the potential for building the center downtown did not end, the letter read.
Second, building the justice center west of downtown Steamboat Springs "contradicts the intent, spirit and specific desires of the 1995 Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan," the letter read. The area plan said government offices should stay downtown because they act as "anchors" within the community.
Third, downtown property and business owners will suffer economically, according to the letter.
Finally, the current site would "destroy a significant portion of wetlands for a project that is not water dependent and where a practical alternative is available."
Merrill said the county would consider the public comments but that the lower cost and other advantages of the site west of downtown mean that site is still the best option.
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