ASOTIN — Asotin County officials have the option of appealing the Clarkston City Council’s pending action to accept or reject the proposed Port Drive site for a new jail.
However, Commissioner Brian Shinn has indicated at town hall meetings the county isn’t interested in dragging the process out or spending taxpayer money on litigation. The commissioners will discuss the issue Monday during an executive session.
Because it appears the city is not on board with the proposed Port Drive site, the county will likely begin moving forward on building the jail along Sixth Avenue, north of the Asotin County Regional Landfill in the Clarkston Heights. That process involves a conditional-use permit and county planning commission input, but the commissioners have the final say.
The new $13.7 million jail is being funded with a public safety sales tax, which was approved by Asotin County voters in 2019. The plan is to construct a jail with 122 beds, but the size will depend on how much money is spent on land preparation, Commissioner Chuck Whitman said. The project will not go over budget, commissioners promised.
At the city level, Clarkston City Clerk Steve Austin said the city council can accept or deny the Clarkston Planning Commission’s findings of fact at a public meeting. The city’s planning group voted 3-0 in favor of denying the county’s zone change application Monday night.
No further public hearings will be held at City Hall, Austin said, clarifying remarks made Monday night by Public Works Director Kevin Poole. The next planning meeting is at 6 p.m. May 17 at City Hall, where the group will review the findings of fact and send them on to the council for approval or denial. After the council weighs in, the county has 15 days to file an appeal in Asotin County Superior Court, Austin said.
A lengthy court battle wouldn’t benefit the citizens of Asotin County, Shinn said at previous meetings, and would delay the voter-approved project. The anticipated completion date is early 2023.
Replacement of the outdated and overcrowded jail on Fifth Street has been discussed for years, and the county conducted numerous town hall meetings on the issue. After voters gave the project the green light, architects Clemons, Rutherford and Associates, based in Florida, went to work with local law enforcement officials on designs. The company has built hundreds of correctional facilities across the country.
Those involved in the process were in favor of constructing the jail on a vacant lot near 14th Street and Port Drive, officials said. The property became available last October.
The potential $1.4 million purchase of 6.4 acres required a nonrefundable $14,000 deposit, but no other money has been spent on the site, county officials said. The property along Sixth Avenue is owned by the county. However, Asotin County officials said the ground near the landfill will be more expensive to prepare for a jail and will increase transport costs for law enforcement.
During public sessions, the comments from residents have been a mixed bag. Some Clarkston Heights residents have raised concerns about traffic, property values and other issues if Sixth Avenue is the ultimate location of the jail. At the last town hall meeting, an informal poll of the audience indicated the majority of those in attendance support the Port Drive site.
Those opposed to the 1401 Port Drive location have said a jail could negatively affect future waterfront plans and tourism, and the city should have been more involved in the site selection.
Overall, the consensus is the new jail is needed and has to be built somewhere.
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