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Benton County blasted for site selections in justice plan
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Benton County blasted for site selections in justice plan

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County justice sites 15

Benton County's justice improvement plan will go to the voters next year. One possible site is south of Reservoir Avenue and west of 53rd Street where Corvallis Landscaping Supply is located. Residents who participated in a public outreach session Wednesday strongly opposed building at the site.

Benton County officials received an earful of public comment, some in the form of digital chats, about their developing proposals for new criminal justice facilities.

A 100-minute virtual session Wednesday night was a chaotic mix of rapid-fire chat messages from a group that exceeded 140 at one point, as well as breakout sessions that at least in one instance resulted in angry comments about the “stupidity” and “lying” coming from the Board of Commissioners.

Later this month, the three commissioners are scheduled to make a site decision, although a cascade of chats on the Zoom broadcast called for the board to slow down the process to give the public more time to participate.

Ultimately, the county hopes to place a bond measure on the November 2022 ballot that would ask voters to raise property taxes by as much as $100 million. If approved, the money would pay for a new jail to replace the outdated 40-bed jail with a 120-bed model, add rehabilitation programs, build a new courthouse and sheriff’s/emergency operations center and add a mental health crisis center.
 
The crisis center, which already is largely funded, will occupy the county building on Northwest Fifth Street in downtown Corvallis. Sites for most of the other pieces include either Reservoir Avenue near the Benton County Fairgrounds or a spot in South Corvallis along Highway 99W.
 
It was the folks who would be affected by the westside placement that were most vocal Wednesday night. Issues raised by those commenting and chatting included the impact on established neighborhoods and the nearby Bald Hill Natural Area, light and noise pollution, floodplain issues, safety and traffic.
 
Meeting participants also strenuously argued that a third piece of property, the McFadden site near the HP Inc. campus, should not have been removed from consideration. Difficulties getting the property owner to agree to a letter of intent to sell the parcel led to the site’s demotion, project officials said, although Zoom participants argued that county officials gave up too soon and should consider acquiring the property via eminent domain.

The meeting got off to a slow start technically as moderators grappled with a Zoom capacity of 100. Once the capacity issue was addressed the participant list shot into the 140s before dropping slowly to about 110 by the time the Q&A finished.

 After an overview from project officials, audience members were surveyed with an instant poll on what should be the most important factor in the decision-making process. Site was the clear winner at 58%, followed by funding and safety (14% apiece), infrastructure (8%) and access and “other” (4% apiece). The numbers don't add up to 100 because of rounding.

Attendee Geoff Hollinger, however, referred to the survey as a “nonsense poll” because, he said, “the site factor drives all of the others.”

A pair of breakout sessions followed. The reporter was in a group moderated by Undersheriff Greg Ridler that included Hollinger, Grand Oaks resident Rollie Baxter and Olga Loza, whose home backs up to Reservoir Avenue.

At one point Loza used her video camera to show her back deck, back yard, back fence and the open space beyond where the justice buildings could be built.

“We live in nature here,” Loza said.

Baxter, meanwhile, hammered at the commissioners on the McFadden issue.

“Something really stinks here,” Baxter said. “The commissioners in their stupidity refuse to reconsider (McFadden) and keep these grossly inadequate sites on the table. Grand Oaks and the other neighborhoods are not going to vote for it. The Board of Commissioners is lying to the citizens of this community."

Board of Commissioners Chair Xan Augerot and Vice-chair Nancy Wyse and Commissioner Pat Malone participated in the Zoom, answered questions during the Q&A and discussed their criteria for the site selection process. Wyse received kudos on the chat scroll for rating "community support" No. 1. Augerot listed the operational efficiency and functionality of the system.

Malone favored the cost of land and development. Malone received criticism in both the breakout groups and the chat scroll for rushing to judgment on the issue. Malone did not address the criticism during any of his remarks.
 

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@lee.net or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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