With environmental review complete, Ferndale jail can proceed

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 11, 2013 

FERNDALE - There were no surprises in the final draft of an environmental impact statement for a new Whatcom County jail and sheriff's office.

With the Thursday, Nov. 7, release of the document, the jail has crossed a major environmental hurdle and can move forward as proposed on a vacant 40-acre property on the corner of LaBounty Drive and Sunset Avenue.

The County Council will be briefed on the impact statement at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, at the county courthouse, 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham.

"We're going to go over the information ... which really indicates that the LaBounty road site will accommodate the jail facility," said Tyler Schroeder, a county planning manager who is working on the jail project. "It indicates that the impacts are known and that all of those impacts can be mitigated for."

Major impacts listed in the report include more traffic in south Ferndale, increased demand on the city's water and sewer services, the destruction of more than three acres of wetlands, and the aesthetic impact of a jail built on an empty field.

The report proposes solutions. It calls for four-way stop signs at Slater Road and the Interstate 5 ramps, and at Pacific Highway. Temporary on-site sewage treatment may be needed until the city expands its wastewater treatment plant. The wetlands will be replaced on site, and the jail will be set back from the road and screened with trees to reduce the visual impact.

Some of the more common public concerns fell outside the scope of the environmental review. In comments, people asked for more mental-health services to reduce incarceration rates, and they questioned the need for a 521-bed jail with room to expand to 649 beds by 2026.

The current jail at the county courthouse and the work center on Division Street have a capacity of 390. People being held on lesser charges often are released because of space constraints.

The County Council must decide by December whether to purchase the LaBounty Drive property. The price listed in cost estimates for the jail is $7 million. The total cost of the jail is estimated at $109 million.

The county will need to apply for federal, state and city permits. Approval of a Ferndale permit will require a public hearing. The city will require the solutions to the environmental impacts listed in the report unless conditions change, Ferndale Community Development Director Jori Burnett said.

Construction of the jail is tentatively planned to start next year.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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