Jail planners announce estimated costs

Published on Wed, Sep 11, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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It’s not going to be cheap to build the new jail. 

When all is said and done, jail planners are estimating that the proposed county jail and sheriff’s offices will cost $109 million to build.

DLR Group, the company hired by the county to plan the jail, along with sheriff Bill Elfo and county executive Jack Louws, presented a jail planning update to a special committee of the whole of Whatcom County Council on September 10. A cost analysis was included in the presentation. 

The $109 million price tag includes everything from the cost of purchasing the 40-acre property on LaBounty Drive and Sunset Avenue in Ferndale to taxes associated with the property sale, permit fees, design and construction costs.

After construction, planners estimate the yearly operatng costs of the facilities would be $14.8 million, with the majority alloted for staffing, contracted services, supplies and utilities. 

Construction of the facilities is estimated to cost $79 million and, if all goes as planned, construction of the first phase would be completed by 2017.

Planners said phase one would result in a jail with 521 beds. A second phase, expanding the total number of beds to 649, would be delayed until necessary. The county has estimated that 649 beds will be needed by 2026.

The environmental impact report, which includes an environmental impact statement drafted in 2010 and a supplemental environmental impact statement drafted in 2013, will be presented to the public at a meeting at Ferndale City Council chambers on Thursday, September 26. The public will have from that meeting until Thursday, October 14 to comment on the environmental impact of the jail.

Council is scheduled to debate on November 26 and December 10 whether or not to purchase the property. If they decide to purchase the property and move ahead with the process, they’ll have to figure out how to pay for it. 

No plan has been approved for how to fund the jail, and  any tax levy would have to be approved by at least 60 percent of Whatcom County voters.

Council approves slaughterhouses on agricultural land

At their regular meeting September 10, council members voted 4–3 in favor of an ordinance amending agricultural zoning to allow meat-packinghouses as an accessory use on agricultural land. 

The close vote followed a lengthy public hearing and debate among council members.

Twenty-five residents voiced their opinion on the matter. Arguments against the ordinance focused primarily on perceived threats to the watershed and soils. 

Many called for increased regulations built into the language of the ordinance. 

Those in favor of the ordinance cited the economic boost to local farmers, job creation and the benefits of locally sourced meat.

The ordinance was originally proposed in 2012 as a regular agricultural use, but has been amended numerous times since then. 

The latest changes include a stipulation that at least 70 percent of the animals processed at any packinghouse facility in Whatcom County would have to come from Whatcom, Skagit or Island counties.

“We need to allow farmers to make a profit if we’re going to support agriculture in Whatcom County,” said council chair Kathy Kershner.

Councilmembers Weimer, Mann and Brenner voted against the ordinance.