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Ephrata jail meetings set; county looks at other sites

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | July 14, 2021 1:05 AM

EPHRATA — Residents of the area served by the Port of Ephrata (Grant County Port District 9) are invited to two public hearings on the potential sale of port property to Grant County.

If port commissioners decide to sell it, the land would be part of the site of a new Grant County Jail.

Hearings are scheduled for 7 p.m. July 28 and 4 p.m. Aug. 16, both at the Port of Ephrata office, 1990 E. Division Ave.

In the meantime, Grant County commissioners have asked county staff to start looking at options for alternate sites in the Ephrata area.

County commissioners voted in February on a preferred site for the new jail, and chose near the current work release center, 1631 E. Division Ave. in Ephrata. That site was recommended by the Florida-based architectural firm CRA Architects, which was hired to analyze possible locations.

Grant County owns six acres at the site, but county officials want to buy additional property from the port.

Port of Ephrata Director Greg Becken said Tuesday commissioners want to give port district residents a chance to be heard before making any decisions.

“What we are seeking is the public’s opinion on the location the county has proposed for the jail,” Becken said.

Port commissioners have not decided yet whether they will sell the property to Grant County, Becken said, and they won’t make a decision until after the public hearings.

County officials talked informally with port commissioners earlier this year about possibly buying port property for the jail, but haven’t come back with a proposal, Becken said.

County commissioners discussed the jail project Tuesday and Grant County Director of Central Services Tom Gaines said he has made efforts to talk with the port officials. They have not responded to most of the attempts at contact, he said. County officials met with port officials in early June to discuss the project, the only meeting between them on the subject to date.

Port commissioners have said it’s early in their decision process, Gaines said, but they have not been specific about their process or how long it will take.

Becken said port commissioners want to respond in the appropriate time, but they need to hear from residents first.

County commissioners awarded the contract to design the new jail to CRA Architects and Gaines said he asked the design team to come up with an option that could be built on the six acres the county already owns at the site. The architects said it could be done, but would require demolishing the existing work center, Gaines said.

Commissioner Cindy Carter said it felt like the county’s request was being treated differently than other potential purchasers. The lack of response might indicate port commissioners don’t want to sell, she said.

Commissioner Rob Jones asked at what point Gaines would suggest looking for an alternate site. Gaines said he would support a search around the Ephrata area for an alternative right now.

Jones asked how much land would be required and Grant County Development Services Director Damien Hooper said about 10 acres.