Posted by: sweeneyblog | September 16, 2013

County Pushes Forward with Oversized Jail costing $109m

Last Tuesday, the jail planners made a presentation to the County Council that filled me with dread. After the Sheriff and the County Executive had finally seen the wisdom of a reasonably-sized facility (521 beds), the planners pushed forward with a plan for 649 beds, built in two stages.

Here is their presentation which you can read yourself. First off the bat, there is still no needs assessment included. We have pleaded for a new needs assessment yet they seem content on going full speed ahead on this project using the initial flawed needs assessment. The planners say they are working on a fresh one, but it has yet to be seen by the public.

Whatcom County Jail costs

Costs for the New Jail

The other major issue is the size. This presentation was focused on the cost, and despite assertions that the first phase will be 521 beds and the second phase (bringing the number up to 649 beds) will be at some later point, the budget presented is for both phases. That leads me to believe that “phase two” will happen in tandem or soon after “phase one” is completed. This is being presented as a complete package for a facility of 649 beds. It does not matter if we build it in the space of six years as opposed to four years, we are still building space we might not need for another twenty years.

The new jail facility (and sheriff’s office) is estimated at $109 million, including $7 million to buy the property. If the taxpayers are going to shell out that much cash, we should at least know whether we are overbuilding or not. 521 beds is an acceptable size that will meet our needs for the next twenty years . . . according to the jail planners themselves. Discussing a 649 bed facility is ridiculous – including it in the budget? Deeply troubling.

You can voice your concerns at a community meeting to discuss the jail on Sept 26th, 6 p.m. at the Ferndale City Council chambers. Show up and let the county and the planners know that phase two is unacceptable at this time. We need to only be paying for 521 beds.



  1. Riley,
    Thanks (as always) for the information. A question, please: Does the money for the jail need to be voter approved or can the Council act without a referendum or other citizen-based agreement?

    • The Council has the authority to go ahead on this project however they do not have the raw cash. They will need to get more money – either by raising property taxes or some sort of bond.

  2. they’re gonna need a voter-bond to do $100 mil., and that’s the only place I can see stalling, re-thinking, or even stopping this beast—10% will be waiting to go to the State Penn; 10% at least will be border related cases; and low & behold, little Ferndale is the perfect bedroom community to accommodate the whole thing…am I the only one who thinks putting a complex larger than the Tulalip Casino inside the Ferndale city limits on a private parcel priced at $7 mil., while Belingham & the County own thousands of acreage, is beyond ridiculous? We remeber Jack’s slogan, “Do you know Jack?” ours might now be, “Have we been Jacked?”
    (as an aside, and a metaphor for the ridiculousness of this whole process, the supplemental EIS was 253 pages (more than half) of re-printed traffic analysis in a 473 pg document)

  3. If I’m not mistaken, I think this is outside the scope of a councilmatic bond—but I’m going by an old-fashioned mayor-council model in Ferndale, not sure what “Charter” gov. rules allow…

    • The current Non-voted debt capacity of the County is in excess of $340 million (1.5% of the total assessed value of Whatcom County less outstanding non-voted debt).

      Could the County Council borrow the money without asking the voters? Yes. Would they have a way to repay it? Probably not, which is why another voter-approved tax increase is being suggest as a possible source of repayment.

      • Then it is the same as the old strong-mayor-Council system…makes one wonder why Charter gov. at all…thank you for the clarification…

      • County and city general obligation debt limits are established by state statute here:

        The County’s Debt Policy can be found here:

        The debt policy would be good background reading for anyone following the jail project.

      • Thank you so much for your insight!

  4. it seems to me their strategy, not uncommon, has been to ask for the stars all along, and hope for the moon…this was an 800 bed deal, and still is, but w/a proposal to build 600+ of those now…this was a 100 + million dollar deal, then it was a $70 mil. deal, and we’re back at the $100+ again…there were variously 11-13 alternatives, then there was “only one site under consideration”…If I’m not mistaken, the $70 mil. was a figure related to the fact that it could be done without a voter-approved bond…I would not be surprised to see this thing drop to under 500 beds in phase-one, miraculously hitting a figure at below $70 mil., and resulting in what they always thought they could, in their wettest dreams, attain. Call me cynical.

  5. I am a big fan of Sheriff Joe Arpaijo down in Phoenix. Jail should not be a nice place with comforts for the prisoners. Pitch a few (with convict labor) US Army Surplus GP Medium tents, give them cots and devise a controlable way to heat them. If you don’t like it, make damn sure you don’t come back. That means either you go straight or you be a crook in some other county or state.

    • In that case, you certainly won’t mind contributing your fair share of recurring funds to the cause.

  6. One thing is pretty clear to all serious observers, this is not a debate as to whether the jail will be ‘hard’ enough on inmates…I suppose we could have “1st class” for those not yet convicted, awaiting trial; a 2nd class for those ‘inside’ for a minor, non-violent infraction, and then a dungeon, ‘steerage’ as it were, with ‘racks,’ sewage, and rats for the rest…This is a law enforcement/ideologically driven ‘law & order’ ‘hammer’ searching for a nail, and an imaginary ‘nail’ will do, so long as it ‘proves’ crime is up (which it isn’t), and insists our County is poised for hyper-growth—and moreover, most of those coming are criminals… if punishing ‘criminals’ is the sole mission, a 100 million dollar cage is as good as any…However, if the mission is crime reduction, and increasing the number of contributing citizens as a percentage of the population, it’s gonna be a little harder. Cages have demonstrably failed as a viable, or even cost-effective remedy—So tell me again why we should build even bigger, fancier, more elaborate cages as the remedy for the future?

  7. though many don’t wish to admit it or accept it for a variety of reasons better left to well, psychologists, an alarming number of the ‘inmates’ are there due to symptoms of serious mental illness. The notion that if it’s awful enough, they will think better of coming back is not a tenable solution to dealing with the engine driving most petty crime. It is not too much to say that in some cases, making jail as intolerable and painful as possible thus hoping ‘reason’ will guide the offender’s future actions, is to say to a cancer victim that if only they thought a bit and did everything right, they wouldn’t find themselves back in the hospital for treatment…ludicrous, that is if you acknowledge that some who are mentally ill are really sick. I do. This jail puts all present and future resources devoted to the problem in one giant 150,000 sq ft basket. Insanity resulting in folly —that’s all I’m sayin’

  8. According to an NPR report, and an article in “Mother Jones” recently, many jails are now the only place for the mentally ill to go, as funding has been cut for mental hospitals and care. (Note the closing of the Skagit E and T center after the shootings down there – nonsensical). But those places are planning for that, with professional staff, group therapy, vocational rehab, etc. If that is a hidden agenda, it needs to be reviewed and discussed out in the open; given the Wall Street takedown of our economy, it may not be a bad alternative if done well..

  9. very sad that we might be discussing how our jail, at over $100 million, might also somehow be retrofitted to provide ancillary services to the mental ill…

  10. I still like the parking lot south of the court house . We own it and the water ,sewer and power systems are built. Plus less travel time and energy costs.

    • Hugh, you know I agree with you. Especially since this high priced venture will keep all of the services except the Hospital on the roads to Ferndale until sprawl catches up, while it gobbles funds which should go to nonprofits to provide mental health, drug and probation staff and the courts for additional time to help people stay out of jail by appearing when they are scheduled. Just look at the Herald to see who gets booked for what. What a waste at a time when jail’s are looking to fill beds in King and Thurston Counties because of overbuilding.

  11. there are facts that de-facto fill the jail: the administrator recently signed an order reducing time-off for good behavior from 1/2 time off to 1/3rd, which is very rare in our State (most are 1/2; the public defender’s office took a bigger budget cut than the prosecutor, who had a larger budget to begin with; and the drug court, what the National Institute for Drug Policy said was a “model for the nation,” (when it was still bench-scale), has been nearly completely defunded; the Feds have essentially designated several Whatcom County officers “Marshalls”–further involving our locally funded jail in customs enforcement (holding those ‘caught’ by the Feds); and Elfo’s stats on a supposed increase in ‘gang’ activity and other crime is not sustained by their own statistics…and the list goes on and on…

  12. can’t find it now, but someone said the Lummi grave desecration was a “lie”–what part of the following is a “lie”?: “As of March, 27 percent of the total volume of cultural deposits had been sifted by the Lummi Nation, according to Blum and Rossi. More than 3,600 human bone fragments, varying in size and condition, and more than 1,000 artifacts had been recovered by Lummi workers.”

    “…Thomas said many of the remains appeared to have been crushed by construction equipment. Carbon dating placed some of the remains at between 3,000 and 5,000 years old according to Steve Kinley, a recovery team leader…On Aug. 5, 1999 – one month after construction began – the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office issued a “Stop Work Order.” USDA was the lead agency because it had funded the project.

    “Lummi first sued Blaine for $40 million; the lawsuit was settled when Blaine agreed to move its wastewater treatment plant and pay copy.25 million.

    “According to the summary by Blum and Rossi, in February 2000, human remains from one and a half burials were recovered from the property of Freeman Trucking, where 50 cubic meters of dirt had been taken during construction. Freeman had been hired to haul dirt from Semiahmoo Spit. Freeman was closed after the discovery.”


  13. Here is an interesting post, germane to the topic of the jail:

  14. Hello mates, its impressive piece of writing about cultureand fully defined, keep it up all the time.

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