County, Friends send letters to Army Corps

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Final arguments have been made for and against a wetlands permit to allow a justice center to be built west of Steamboat Springs.

Routt County officials have sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers arguing for the permit's approval. Friends of the Justice Center, which argues the center should be built downtown, has submitted a letter urging the Corps to deny the permit.

The letters were sent in the past two weeks. The Army Corps expects to have a decision Friday.

As proposed, the 52,000-square-foot justice center would cost $15 million. The county has been waiting for a year and a half to learn whether it will get a permit to fill 1.4 acres of wetlands at the west site, which is adjacent to the Routt County Jail.

Tony Curtis of the Corps of Engineers' Frisco office said he has submitted his draft decision for review. Col. Ronald Light, district engineer for the Army Corps' Sacramento District, will make a final decision. Curtis would not say what his recommendation is.

Last fall, the Corps issued a preliminary denial of the permit. Since then, the county has lobbied hard to get the Corps to reverse it decision.

The Corps' final decision will focus on whether the downtown site the county pursued before 2003 is a practicable, less environmentally damaging alternative.

The county wrote in its letter that the Army Corps should carefully consider cost. The downtown site would cost about $4.5 million more than the west site, county staff has said.

A downtown justice center would not be next to the jail and so would be less safe and less efficient, county officials argued in their letter. The downtown site also does not have enough set-off from neighborhoods and uncontrolled streets and alleys, and it does not allow for enough expansion of county and court offices.

The letter from the Friends of the Justice Center, submitted by spokesman Townsend Anderson, challenges the county's cost estimates. The county would not have to build a parking structure according to the Steamboat Springs City Council, which decreases the cost difference by about $3 million.

The Friends letter also encourages the Army Corps not to focus completely on cost, as wetlands sites often are less expensive to buy. The letter stated that as recently as 2002, county commissioners felt the downtown site would serve the project's purpose.

Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger has said that the county would not build downtown even if the permit is denied.

Curtis said that the county submitted some new information in its letter, but he would not specify what that information was.

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

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