Group: Justice center studies slanted

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A group that wants to keep Routt County's new justice center downtown has challenged two of three studies the county recently submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The county commissioned studies on security, floodplain and parking issues after the Army Corps in June issued a preliminary denial of the county's permit application to fill 1.4 acres of wetlands at the proposed west of downtown site.

The county hoped the studies would show the downtown site is not a practicable alternative to the west site, a critical concern of the Army Corps.

The Friends of the Justice Center, which was organized to keep the new justice center downtown, thought other consultants should examine the county's studies, said Townsend Anderson, a spokesman for the group.

"It was clear to us that (the county's) studies were designed to enhance and support the county's position," Anderson said.

The cover letter on the group's report states that "none of the three studies prove that the downtown site is impracticable."

Routt County commissioners Doug Monger and Dan Ellison said they had not seen the Friends of the Justice Center's report. Ellison said he thought public comment period on the project had ended "some time ago."

Monger said constituents tell him every day that they think the county made the right decision to build the new facility at the west site.

"The downtown site is the wrong site, it's not one of the right sites, it's the wrong site," Monger said.

But, he said, if the permit to fill wetlands is turned down by the Army Corps, the county would have to have discussions on next steps, as there would be "more reconsidering to do," he said.

The aim of the Friends of the Justice Center is to get county commissioners to at least reconsider the downtown site, Anderson said.

"Our single goal is to bring the county back to the table with the city to find a way to make the downtown site work in the interest of the city and the public and future generations," he said.

One focus of the Friends of the Justice Center's report is the county's security study. The county's consultant determined that a security system downtown would be costlier and more challenging than one at the west site, and it would pose some risks such as prisoner escapes that could not be completely mitigated.

In the Friends of the Justice Center study, state Rep. Gary Lindstrom and J.D. MacFarlane, who has served as attorney general of Colorado and as manager of safety and sheriff of Denver County, said the county's study is based on a level of risk that is not consistent with its current number of inmates and its history, in which there have been only two attempted escapes during a prisoner transport.

The Army Corps is reviewing the county's studies, and anticipates it will have more questions, said Tony Curtis, the Frisco Regulatory Office chief for the Sacramento District of the Army Corps of Engineers. Those questions could be posed to the county and the county's consultants in the next week.

The Army Corps also will consider the report from the Friends of the Justice Center, Curtis said, as it would consider any other pertinent information submitted.

"Generally speaking, we'll take comments from governmental agencies and public organizations up until the point when we're ready to commence our final decision," Curtis said.

County commissioners decided a 1 1/2 years ago to build the justice center at the west site because it was less expensive than building downtown, where a parking structure was necessary, it allowed county offices to expand in the downtown location and it provided better security, among other reasons. They have stood by that decision.

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