County proposes new jail site to be in Ferndale

Published on Wed, Dec 5, 2012 by Ian Ferguson

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County residents had varied and passionate reactions to the recommendation of a site for the new jail, and voiced their concerns at a crowded Whatcom County Council meeting on Tuesday, December 4. County executive Jack Louws and sheriff Bill Elfo presented the Jail Planning Task Force’s (JPTF) recommended site for the proposed jail at the corner of LaBounty Drive and Sunset Avenue in Ferndale.

“We’ve done as much as we can do, without spending money on outside consulting, to come up with what we believe is our best recommendation,” Louws told councilmembers while presenting the final recommendation for a jail site. He added that the recommendation by no means suggests that the county is ready to make a purchase, or even that the site is final. An environmental impact statement and other assessments are the next step for the JPTF, and Louws said a business decision as to site purchase may be made in the first quarter or the first third of 2013.

The JPTF also announced its selection of the Seattle-based architect firm, DLR Group, to design the jail. The unanimous decision to select DLR was based on an impressive portfolio of more than 100 jails and a reputation as a national leader in justice and civic design, Louws said. The council will vote to adopt or reject the JPTF’s recommendations at a later date.

“The new jail may be one of the largest projects of our generation – and it’s important that it be done right,” Elfo added.

During open session, county residents debated over the size of the jail, and residents who live near the recommended site tried to put a face to the neighborhood.

James Sweeney argued that a 700-bed jail is too big for the size of Whatcom County, pointing out the jail in south King County has 824 beds to serve a much larger population with higher crime rates.

“By the same ratio, we would need a jail with 400 beds,” Sweeney said.

Later, Public Safety Now Committee member Ray Baribeau harshly derided Sweeney’s arguments, saying: “I have a book on my bookshelf. It was published in 1948, and it iscalled, ‘How to Lie With Statistics.’”

Ferndale residents voiced concerns about the jail being built in their neighborhood. Brenton Fox lives just off of LaBounty Drive, and said that the proposed site is situated very close to his backyard where his children play. Jim Fox, a 30-year resident of LaBounty Drive, said 25 to 30 kids catch the school bus along that road.

County resident Greg Brown pointed out that the jail has to be built somewhere, and recommended that the residents in the LaBounty Drive neighborhood begin working with the JPTF as the planning process moves forward.

A proposal to allow slaughterhouses to be built on agricultural land was tabled after contentious public comment. Arguments made against the proposal ranged from conservative appeals to “think it through more thoroughly so that factory farms don’t come to Whatcom County,” to religious views that cows are sacred.

The proposal was spurred by a request to allow slaughtering facilities on agricultural land filed in December 2011 by Gabriel Claycamp, who hoped to start a slaughtering business in Lynden.

Claycamp said that this would be a small-scale slaughterhouse, devoid of the environmental and animal cruelty concerns of notorious factory farms. Some residents said they liked the idea of a local, small-scale slaughtering facility, but other residents said they were concerned that the zoning easement would allow bigger slaughterhouses to move in.

The council elected to push any decision off for the second time the proposal; it was first tabled after a September 25 first public hearing.

In other news, the council approved a proposal to enter into an interlocal agreement between Whatcom County Parks and Recreation and the city of Blaine to provide annual funding of $59,450 for staffing and operational support for the Blaine Senior Center in 2013 and 2014. 

They also approved a contract between the Whatcom County Flood Zone District and Tetra Tech, Inc. for assistance in developing the Birch Bay Central Uplands Subwatershed Master Plan funded through the Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resources Management district budget, in the amount of $138,431. Council acted as the Whatcom County Flood Control Zone District Board of Supervisors in making the decision.

The council will reconvene in 2013 after a holiday break.