Make your voices heard: Jail scoping period is open

Published on Wed, May 15, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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The scoping period for the new jail site has begun, and officials are seeking comments from members of the public on the impacts of building a new jail at the preferred site in Ferndale.

County officials have announced that the preferred site for the new jail is a 40-acre parcel on the west side of LaBounty Road just north of Sunset Road.

In 2010 Whatcom County issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for a proposal to build a jail on two other potential jail sites. Those two other sites have been withdrawn from consideration, and a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) will be issued that piggybacks on the DEIS but focuses on the preferred property and an alternative of making improvements to the existing jail in downtown Bellingham.

The preferred site was selected from 11 proposed sites because it scored the highest after examination by a group of jail planning experts. According to county executive Jack Louws, proximity to I-5 and readily available three-phase power were among the attributes that made the property stand out.

In a letter published in The Northern Light March 20, Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said the current jail system is insufficient and crowding at the jail has reached unacceptable levels.

“Life-safety issues, human conditions, potential taxpayer liability and extraordinary repair costs dictate (the jail planning process) move forward,” Elfo said.

A press release from county planning and development services said the proposed jail might be constructed in multiple phases, with the first phase opening in 2017 with up to 660 beds. Based on a needs analysis through 2040, it is anticipated that another phase might occur after 2030, which could bring the facility to 800 beds. Additional phases could occur after 2040, but would be based on a future needs analysis.

A public scoping meeting will be held on Thursday, May 16 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Horizon Middle School forum/auditorium, 2671 Thornton Road, Ferndale.

Written comments on the scope of the EIS should be sent to Michael Russell, Whatcom County Facilities Management, 316 Lottie Street, Bellingham, WA 98225, postmarked on or before May 30. E-mails can be sent to newjail@whatcomcounty.us.