ASOTIN — The Florida architect overseeing construction of the new Asotin County Jail said the proposed site near 14th Street and Port Drive in Clarkston looks like an ideal spot for the 256-bed facility.

At a sparsely attended town hall meeting Thursday night, Will Rutherford of Clemons, Rutherford and Associates outlined the advantages and disadvantages of building along Sixth Avenue in the Clarkston Heights, the Turning Pointe Business Park along Evans Road and an industrial site in the Port of Clarkston.

When asked by Commissioner Chris Seubert if the Port Drive location is the “sweetheart spot,” Rutherford said estimated site work would be far less expensive than building in the Heights.

“So yes, that site is very attractive,” Rutherford said via telephone. “It’s like a pad that’s ready to go.”

Asotin County has entered into a purchase agreement to buy 6.4 acres in the port at a cost of $1.4 million. The decision was made late last month, and caught city of Clarkston officials off guard. Prior to the announcement, county-owned property near the Asotin County Regional Landfill had been repeatedly touted as the preferred site.

The commissioners said the Clarkston property has always been on their radar, and they had to move quickly when the opportunity to buy it emerged in October. After reviewing the costs of excavation work and accessing utilities in the Heights, the port site was clearly the best option, Seubert said.

Clarkston City Clerk Steve Austin, the only person other than the Lewiston Tribune who attended the town hall session in person, said the city’s biggest concern is the sales agreement is contingent on a zone change, and Clarkston officials weren’t involved in the process.

Austin could not address officials at the town hall meeting because of the county’s COVID-19 policies, but he spoke with the Tribune after the meeting, saying the city may conduct its own public meeting on the issue and allow for a longer comment period.

“The city is one of the biggest supporters of the construction of a new jail,” Austin said. “We have wholeheartedly been behind the project and were early advocates of the public safety sales tax measure. The city feels it is a disservice to the taxpayers to assume that property would be able to be purchased without the proper process.”

Austin has said the zone change could take up to six months because the process involves input from the planning commission, public hearings and two readings of an ordinance by the Clarkston City Council.

Rutherford said he’s been in discussions with Kevin Poole, public works director, and will be sending detailed reports to the city as the project moves forward. The county’s current plan is to purchase the land and apply for a zone change, which would allow construction of a jail within city limits.

Seubert said the jail will only require 4 acres and the remaining property can be sold for commercial uses and remain on the city’s tax rolls.

Commissioner Chuck Whitman said the county intends to use capital funds to purchase the land, and the sales tax money designated for the new jail would then be used to reimburse the county for the 4 acres used for the corrections facility.

The county’s public works department will be able to do much of the ground work at the port site, which will provide additional cost savings, Whitman said.

Rutherford said the port location would work well because it’s flat, the utilities are nearby, traffic is not an issue, and the oversized streets in that area will provide easy access. It won’t be built on fill dirt and have settling problems in the future. Those factors will help ensure the $13.7 million project is done properly, so operational problems don’t crop up in the future, he said.

“This is the best bang for the buck,” Seubert said.

Commissioner Brian Shinn agreed it’s the best site, and also said he deeply regrets the county couldn’t conduct town hall meetings like it did at the Asotin County Fire District station last year. People were allowed to ask questions at multiple sessions, but the pandemic put an end to those sessions.

“In a COVID-free world, we would be able to hear live comments,” Shinn said. “I think this is the best thing for the county as a whole, and we want to continue our good working relationship with the city.”

Rutherford said he wants to do everything correctly and plans to remain in communication with city of Clarkston officials in the coming months.

Seubert encouraged the public to call the commissioners at (509) 243-2060 if they have any questions about the jail project or the proposed sites. Additional information is available on the county’s website, he said.

“Call us or stop by,” Seubert said. “I’m not an architect, engineer or attorney, so if I don’t have an answer, I’m definitely going to shoot it your way, Will. Let’s get this thing done and have a good jail for our county.”

Sandaine may be contacted at kerris@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.

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