County opens up commenting period for new jail

Published on Wed, Oct 2, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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If you have a beef with the $109 million jail proposed for 40 undeveloped acres in Ferndale, speak now or forever hold your piece.

Whatcom County Development Services, the city of Ferndale and Everett-based Shockey Planning Group, along with eight contributing consulting groups, released a 473-page supplemental draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the new jail September 13. Members of the public have until Monday, October 14 to submit their comments. Planners will take those comments into consideration when preparing the final EIS.

The adult correctional facility and sheriff’s headquarters, slated for a property west of LaBounty Drive and north of the intersection with Sunset Avenue, will likely be constructed in multiple phases. The first phase would be completed by 2017 and would include 521 beds, with space for 128 additional beds to be built if needed. 

The EIS presumes a total of 660 beds in its analysis for state environmental policy act (SEPA) review. It also presumes initial staffing of 91 corrections personnel in the 163,000-square-foot jail and jail support buildings and 116 personnel in the 32,000-square-foot Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department headquarters. The sheriff’s department would move from its current headquarters in Whatcom County Courthouse.

The latest draft of the EIS, which supplements an earlier draft compiled during jail planning efforts in 2010, focuses on environmental and transportation impacts to the surrounding area. 

The EIS predicts an average of 911 new vehicle trips per day to and from the facility. Absent changes to the roads and intersections in the neighborhood, the increased traffic would lead to delays, especially at the intersection of Slater Road and LaBounty Drive. Gibson Traffic Consultants, the advisors studying transportation effects of the new jail, recommended numerous changes to area intersections, including a possible roundabout at the intersection of Slater Road and LaBounty Drive.

The study compares the impacts of building the new jail in one of two design alternatives against that of a no-action alternative. 

The current jail facilities in Bellingham have a capacity of 390 inmates. In their statement of need, the Jail Planning Task Force (a group of officials appointed by the county executive in 2011) wrote, “Due to inadequate existing conditions of the physical plant, life safety concerns and overcrowding, significant and urgent improvements are needed to current adult correctional facilities.”

DLR Group, the Seattle-based company in charge of designing the jail, released the final draft of their pre-design report September 26. The report includes a needs assessment, designs and a cost analysis. 

The project is anticipated to earn LEED platinum certification, the highest rating of sustainability from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The EIS and DLR Group’s preliminary designs of the jail can be found online at

Written comments may be sent to Michael Russell, Whatcom County Facilities Management, 316 Lottie Street, Bellingham, WA 98225. 

Emailed comments may be sent to