McCOOK, Nebraska -- Red Willow County, Nebraska, commissioners will create a jail task force to spearhead the county's study into jail options.
Unlike a task force five or six years ago that studied the possibility of building a joint City of McCook-county law enforcement facility, this task force will concentrate strictly on the pros and cons of a operating a county jail and continuation of the current prisoner transport procedure.
During the commissioners' meeting Monday morning, commissioners and Sheriff Gene Mahon mulled over the names of several county residents who have indicated an interest in participating in a jail study. Commissioners will make official appointments at their April 18 meeting at 10 a.m.
Steven Riley and Scott Lundberg of Prochaska & Associates, the Omaha, Nebraska, firm that commissioners hired March 14 to conduct the jail feasibility study, told commissioners that task force members should believe in the project, even if they're unsure right now which of five options the county should pursue:
* A new jail connected to the north side of the courthouse and/or the sheriff's office in the 500 block of Norris Avenue in McCook.
* Renovation/expansion of the county's existing jail in the sheriff's office.
* Renovation of the city's existing 96-hour holding cells into a fully-operational jail.
* Construction of a new jail on a new location.
* The development of a hold-and-transport facility and continuing to transfer long-term prisoners to neighboring counties.
Riley said that a jail study done in 2005-06 by consultants Gary Bowker and Mark Martin -- whom Riley said were among "the most thorough and credible" consultants -- can be used and updated with current numbers. It will be interesting, he said, to see how Bowker's and Martin's 2005-06 projections have panned out.
Riley's and Lundberg's timeline includes conducting site surveys and a walk-through of existing facilities during the third week of April.
Riley said, through June, they and the task force will develop and refine the five options. He said that by the first part of July, the one top option should have surfaced, and they can further refine a budget and start looking at bond companies.
Plans would be reviewed with the Nebraska Jail Standards board by the end of July and a final proposal made to the commissioners for a "go" or "no go" decision by the middle of August.
Although Riley told commissioners that the timeline is very flexible, commission chairman Earl McNutt said it still allows plenty of time for town hall meetings, if they're necessary, to explain renovation/construction plans before an election in November if it's needed.
Construction of a jail, if that is the final decision approved by voters, could begin in the spring of 2012, Riley said.
Commissioners plan a public hearing at 9:30 a.m., Monday, April 11, to discuss a request from the Nebraska Board of Educational Lands and Funds that commissioners provide a public road to access land south of McCook that a state board representative says has become landlocked because neighbors won't allow use of their unimproved trail road.
Richard Endacott, executive secretary and general counsel of the Nebraska Board of Educational Lands, indicates to commissioners that since January 2010 Mike and Cathy Sis of Bellevue, Nebraska, have denied the use of their trail road by Robert and Steve McConville of Indianola, who rent the school land in Section 16, Township 2, Range 29 West. Without this trail, the McConvilles can no long continue use of the now "isolated" land, Endacott writes.
Endacott indicates that the state board tried to negotiate an easement (for agricultural uses only) across the existing trail/road and offered the Sises a one-time payment of $2,000. The Sises refused that offer and asked, instead, for $1,700 per year. Endacott writes, "The board believes this price is exorbitant, and the payment of such an amount each year would be a violation of Board's fiduciary duty as trustees to it beneficiaries -- the public school students of Nebraska."
Endacott wrote to commissioners that none of the adjacent owners will sell an access easement to the isolated land, and that the state board is requesting that commissioners grant that a public road be created to the now isolated land using the Sises' existing trail road. The state board is not asking for improvements or changes to the existing road, and is willing to bear any costs involved.
Commission chairman Earl McNutt and county surveyor Gary Dicenta agreed that the land may not be landlocked, that many years ago there may have been access in the northeast corner of the section. "Years ago, I had to blade up through there," McNutt said, suggesting that they would probably have to remove a large tree, but that access from the north may be a possibility.
Miller & Associates engineer Stan Johnson told commissioners that the timber bridge north of the former Red Willow/Republican Valley school on U.S. Highway 6 and 34 east of McCook could be replaced with a culvert.
Johnson said that the existing bridge was built before the Red Willow dam was built upstream and that the bridge is now larger than it needs to be. Commissioner Steve Downer told Johnson that the bridge used to be even longer, and county surveyor Gary Dicenta said that one span has been removed. Johnson said that a culvert structure would be less expensive than building a bridge.
McNutt said that Downer been concerned with the bridge for several years, especially since flooding three years ago and since the dam was drained after cracks in the dam were discovered in October of 2009.
Downer blamed water rushing over the road in heavy rains on jamming in the channel further upstream. He said the bridge has never been under water.
Downer said he has no trouble with replacing the bridge with a culvert, "if it's feasible."
Commissioners signed an agreement with Miller & Associates to do the bridge study. The price will vary depending on the depth of the study and whether a bridge does need to be designed.
In other roads action, commissioners made no change in the stop signs on north-south Road 385 (West Third), at the intersection of County Road 719. County road crews will put up "Stop Ahead" signs.
In other action:
* Commissioners declined to ask county attorney Paul Wood to repeal a lawthat forbids driving left-of-center on county roads.
Don Neel of rural McCook -- whose son, Ira, was found guilty on March 24 of driving left-of-center on a county road northeast of McCook in December -- said that drivers naturally drive where the country road is the smoothest and that they rarely drive right-of-center on country roads.
"All of us are driving illegally," he said. "We see that all the time." Neel told commissioners, "The court has mandated that driving left of center is illegal," therefore, Neel said, Paul Wood needs to repeal the law for county roads, or, as Neel wrote in an "Open Forum" letter to the McCook Gazette printed March 25-27, the county needs to rebuild its roads to meet the mandate of the court.
McNutt said that county roads are built wide enough for two-way traffic, even though many drivers drive down the middle of the road except when they're meeting someone or approaching and/or on a hill. "The county can't afford to widen all its roads," McNutt said. "We can't maintain them like state highways."
McNutt continued, telling Neel, "The bottom line is, your son was completely on the wrong side of the road. (He) was almost hugging the opposite shoulder. The video shows it. He was busted."
Neel subpoenaed McNutt to testify at Ira's trial about how county roads are built, used and maintained.
McNutt said at Monday's commissioners' meeting, "I still believe our county roads are made to handle two-way traffic."
Neel told commissioners, "The mandate is there. I hope it don't come back to bite us later."
* Extension educators Mary Kay Warner and Brian Strauch and 4-H aide Donna Kircher presented their 2010 Extension Accomplishment and Impact Report to commissioners.
* Commissioners accepted a list of outdated and inoperative computers and accessories and office equipment that treasurer Marleen Garcia asks commissioners to declare surplus property.
McNutt said that the county's household hazardous materials collection site at the intersection of South and Railroad streets in McCook accepts computer monitors and mouses for proper disposal of the lead they contain. The collection site is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., when director Bill Elliott is there. Call first, (308) 345-4333.