Justice center group forms

Residents who think Routt County's new justice center should stay in downtown Steamboat Springs rather than be moved west have formed the Friends of the Justice Center Inc.

The group is recruiting members and collecting donations for attorney advice and a public information campaign, with the goal of making the county change course and build the new center downtown, organizer Towny Anderson said.

"It's a 100-year decision, and it's a 100-year development pattern that sits in the balance," Anderson said. "People say, 'You're too late.' It's not too late because it's a 100-year decision."

County officials, however, said they have thoroughly researched the issue, gone through a public process and stand by their decision to build the new facility next to the county jail.

"They're not going to change my mind," Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said from her Oak Creek home, where she is recovering from knee infections and kidney failure. "When I put everything together, I feel the decision we made was the right one."

The county has a court order to build the new facility by Sept. 1, 2006, and after a bond question to fund the structure failed in 2002, the county decided a year ago to build the structure west of downtown.

What's most worrisome about that decision, Anderson said, is that building a $15 million structure outside of downtown will take business and investment away from the business district. The public never was given a chance to vote on where the justice center should go, he said, and efforts to work with the city to decrease costs at the downtown site were not fully pursued.

Contrary to what the county argued in an application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fill wetlands at the west of town site, Anderson said the downtown site is a practical and viable alternative.

"It's all about cost and time," Anderson said about the county's decision, "and that's not how you build community."

Stahoviak disagreed. The decision to go west, she said, was based on a long public process and a lot of research on the part of the county commissioners. Putting the location question to a public vote would be a waste of taxpayer money and would take the decision out of the hands of elected officials who were most informed of the issues, Stahoviak said.

Surveys to see if moving the justice center would hurt downtown businesses did not show that there would be an impact, Stahoviak said.

Routt County Commissioner Dan Ellison, the only commissioner who voted to keep the justice center downtown, said he thinks building the justice center west is appropriate and will save money and time and that the county should not change its direction.

County attorney John Merrill said the county should not disregard the court order and assume there would not be repercussions for not meeting the 2006 deadline, which could include giving county money to an outside party to build the facility.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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