Justice center stalled

Wait for wetlands permit could delay construction until spring

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— Each week, county commissioners meet with Routt County purchasing and property manager Tim Winter to get an update on the justice center. This week, there was no meeting because there was no update.

All work on Routt County's new justice center is on hold, as the county waits to learn whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will grant a permit to fill about 1.4 acres of a 5-acre parcel west of downtown Steamboat Springs.

There's a chance that the county may have to push the start of construction back to next spring, which could mean a higher price tag on the $15.5 million building, county officials said.

"It is disappointing to me and frustrating at the same time," Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

Stahoviak said when the county began the process to get the wetlands permit last August, the Army Corps said there shouldn't be many problems.

But controversies over moving the justice center west of downtown have caused delays. The city of Steamboat Springs and individuals want the county to keep the justice center downtown for reasons that include keeping business and investment downtown and discouraging sprawl.

Even with the delays and expected cost increases, Stahoviak said county commissioners are not reconsidering building the new justice center downtown.

"At this point in time, I don't think that's our direction," she said.

Costs related to building a parking structure could still make the downtown site more expensive, she said, and the county wants to use the current courthouse to allow county offices to expand in the future.

In a July 14 letter, the Army Corps requested more information on parking, security and floodplain issues at the alternative downtown site, where the courts and county offices currently are.

Specifically, independent studies on those details are required before the Army Corps makes a decision, which will cause further delays on the project, Stahoviak said.

Those studies are being lined up now, Winter said, but it may be a month or more before contracts can be awarded and the studies will be completed.

The county's original plan was to put the project out to bid in early July, with construction beginning by late July or early August.

If the process is stalled much longer, Winter said, county commissioners may decide to wait a year and put the project out to bid this winter, with work beginning next spring.

Waiting likely means higher costs -- the price of metals, including steel and copper, and the price of fuel have increased, and interest rates also are expected to rise, Winter said.

Originally, the county was under a court order to build the facility by September 2006. That court order was vacated by the Colorado Court of Appeals but could be issued again in the future, county officials have said.


-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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