Doesn’t add up

If there are more than three people in Okanogan County who think that outsourcing the county’s juvenile detention responsibilities to the Spokane area is a good idea, we haven’t heard from them.

If there have been even two times when those three people — the county commissioners — actually listened to their constituents’ concerns and backed away from an arguably bad decision, we can’t recall them.

If there is at least one really good, defensible reason for dismantling the county’s current juvenile detention system in favor of an out-of-county solution — as opposed to improving the existing facilities — we haven’t heard it.

Simple math, to be sure. But it’s simple math that ought to be the undoing of a proposal to contract for juvenile detention services with a for-profit company located several hours away: Martin Hall in Medical Lake.

Consider the time and expense of transporting juveniles back and forth, the fees paid to the detention facility, the lost jobs in Okanogan County, the costs incurred by friends, family and advocates who would have to travel to the remote facility.

As former Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Jack Burchard said in a column in last week’s Methow Valley News: “Why would we spend Okanogan County’s money paying for buildings and employees in Spokane County when we could build [a new facility] here and continue employing many locals?”

The commissioners have scheduled several public meetings to discuss the juvenile detention system’s needs and possible options: on March 15, March 29, April 12, April 26, May 10 and May 31, each of them at 6 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room in Okanogan. That’s encouraging for a couple of reasons: It gives residents several opportunities to participate in the discussion; and it indicates that a decision is not imminent. Make that three reasons — it indicates that the commissioners are taking the public’s concerns seriously and at least will hear them out. At this point, that counts for something.

Ghost town

The ghost of the Wagner lumber mill still haunts the site along the Methow River in Twisp that for many years was a reliable center of employment in the valley. The mill’s closure was a blow to the economy of a community that has few industrial/manufacturing industries and isn’t likely to attract any sizable ones.

The promising idea that the site — with its easy accessibility and adjacency to public utilities — could be converted into an industrial park was eagerly adopted by Twisp in the early 1990s. A lot of time, effort and public money went into laying the groundwork for what was hoped to be an economic revival. For a more complete history of how that happened, read reporter Ann McCreary’s story on page A1 of this week’s issue.

More than 20 years later, you have to look hard to see the potential of the forlorn, overgrown site, which hasn’t seen even a hint of development despite all the public investment. Frustration with that lack of progress, and with the consequences of decisions made years ago, has morphed into a public outcry over the site’s dormant condition.

The catalyzing event for revived public interest was a decision by the property’s owners, the Lloyd family, to retract a promised easement for a recreational town trail across the Lloyd property.

Twisp Council member Bob Lloyd said the family withdrew its commitment to the trail access along the riverfront because of “safety and privacy concerns.” Those reasons seem vague and unsatisfying to many people, but no others have been offered. The Lloyds’ change of heart spurred several residents to raise questions about the decision-making process and other circumstances that allowed the site to sit vacant for so long. They deserve thanks.

It’s time to have the discussion, revisit what was expected, and set firm goals for tangible progress on the site. The town and residents are entitled to that.

The Lloyds say that rezoning to commercial/residential improves the development possibilities, and the town’s years-long water availability crisis has been solved. We’d like to think that’s cause for renewed optimism and foreseeable action. Until then, the ghost of the Wagner mill won’t have any reason to depart.

— Don Nelson