Wednesday, April 27, 2005
The Routt County Board of Commissioners announced Wednesday that it will hold a special meeting today to consider buying property.
There is speculation that the property is a potential third site for the new justice center, but county officials refused to confirm or deny those rumors, or to say where the property is, why they are considering the purchase or what it would be used for.
"It's certainly highly suspicious," said Townsend Anderson, spokesman for Friends of the Justice Center, a group that advocates building the new justice center downtown.
The county has proposed building the new justice center west of town next to the Routt County Jail, but needs a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to fill wetlands at that site. The Corps has not issued a final decision, but its preliminary rulings were to deny the county's request.
Without a wetlands permit, the county would need to reconsider the downtown location or find another property.
Today's meeting will be in executive session, and county officials declined to offer any specifics on its purpose.
"We have the privilege of holding back that information," County Commissioner Doug Monger said when asked how the property will be used. "(Releasing information) could affect the negotiations to acquire whatever property that is."
Monger would not say whether the property is a potential justice-center site. When asked whether the property purchase could be for anything besides the proposed justice center, Monger said it could be for a road easement or right of way, for example.
When asked why a special meeting was scheduled, Monger said simply "time is of the essence."
This property purchase issue originally came before county commissioners April 19 and was heard in executive session.
The April 19 meeting took place before Sullivan had conversations with Army Corps officials last week about the final permit decision.
Monger said the county has had to guard some information as it works to get the wetlands permit to prevent the Friends of the Justice Center from having the advantage.
"We're dealing with terrorists here, and you don't tell terrorists where your stash is loaded," Monger said, referring to the Friends group.
Anderson said a wetlands permit denial would provide an opportunity to completely rethink where the county was building the new justice center. People have learned that investment downtown is good for the whole community and that there are other options for the justice center than what the county has pursued.
"This is unconscionable for the county to be literally closing out, closing the door on the citizens of the community, of the folks who elected them. They have been secretive about this, and it's our money," Anderson said about the possibility of the county pursuing a new site for the justice center. "It just seems that what they're doing now is completely out of spite and is, I think, insulting to City Council and the Steamboat Springs community, if in fact this is what's happening."
The county commissioners originally planned to build the new justice center downtown adjacent to the historic courthouse and bought land, some through the condemnation process, to do so.
After a failed bond issue in 2002 and various public meetings, county commissioners decided to build the justice center just west of downtown Steamboat and purchased the lot adjacent to the Routt County Jail.
Commissioners put about $2.2 million into the downtown site, with $1.5 million going to land and almost $600,000 going to architectural fees. Then they bought the west lot for about $590,000 and spent almost $700,000 on architecture and engineering fees.
If county commissioners decide to purchase the property, Sullivan said they would come out of executive session to make the decision.
Routt County commissioners will meet at 4 p.m. in the Commissioners Hearing Room of the Routt County Courthouse Annex.