Routt County commissioners can build the justice center west of downtown Steamboat next to the Routt County Jail.
A long-awaited permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fill 1.4 acres of wetlands will be granted in coming days, said Tony Curtis, the Army Corps Frisco Regulatory Office chief.
On Thursday, county commissioners signed an option to purchase a conservation easement for wetlands on 2.59 acres of a property next to the justice center site.
Some residents, most notably members of the Friends of the Justice Center group, have continued to urge the county to reconsider its original downtown site next to the courthouse. County commissioners decided to build the justice center at the west site in April 2003.
If the county chooses to purchase the conservation easement, it would contribute to wetlands mitigation required by the Army Corps.
The option costs $7,500, which would be applied to the $195,000 cost of the conservation easement if the county exercises the option. The easement would be on a five-acre parcel owned by Marsha Klein.
The wetlands permit preliminarily was denied last summer, then again in December.
Recently, the county submitted new information to the Army Corps that was crucial to the final decision, Curtis said.
The county brought attention to new standards issued by the Department of Homeland Security regarding federally leased government spaces, he said.
The document, called "Inter--agency security standards for leased spaces," requires that federally leased spaces have a minimum of 20-foot setbacks from roads and alleyways to protect buildings from security risks, such as roadside bombs, Curtis said.
The downtown site, which previously was considered a practicable, less environmentally damaging alternative to the western site, would not meet those setback standards, he said. That was one reason it could not be considered a practicable alternative.
"We couldn't select an alternative that doesn't necessarily comply to a standard that we have to follow," Curtis said.
In recent weeks, the Army Corps also has reviewed blueprints for the west and downtown justice centers, and considered issues related to future expansion, Curtis said.
The county's ability to protect additional wetlands on the Klein property also helped the Army Corps decide to grant the permit, Curtis said.
The county had budgeted $250,000 for wetlands mitigation efforts and likely will be about $50,000 above that after the purchase of the conservation easement, County Attorney John Merrill said.
Overall, the county will enhance and create about 4 acres of wetlands on the two parcels.
County commissioners met to discuss purchasing the option to buy the conservation easement in executive session Thursday. They then opened the meeting to the public to make their decision to purchase the option.
A crowd listened to the decision, but only one public comment was made. Kev--in Bennett urged the county not to move forward with building the justice center west of downtown. He said the original plan to build downtown should be re-examined.
He also said County Com--missioner Doug Monger's comment to Steamboat Today comparing members of the Friends of the Justice Center to terrorists was "reprehensible."
Monger apologized for the comment and said it was "highly inappropriate."
He said he was ready to move forward with plans for the new justice center.
"I'm ready to move on," Monger said. "We are implementing a decision that was made in 2003. ... I think it's time that we move ahead."
County Commissioner Nan--cy Stahoviak, speaking via a conference call, said the county had a very public process to decide where to build the justice center. The west site still has better security, ability for expansion, and costs much less, among other benefits, she said.
She said she also thinks that the county's wetlands mitigation would result in better wetlands than are at the site now.
County Commissioner Dan Ellison said he thought the west location was appropriate.
County Manager Tom Sulli--van said that after receiving the official approval, the county will submit a conceptual plan for construction for the Army Corps to approve. Then it can move forward with building the justice center. The county already has a contract for the excavation and fill work at the site.
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