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Construction Begins on Controversial Nisqually Tribal Jail

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Construction has started on the culturally sensitive $20 million Nisqually Safety Complex in Thurston County, Washington, reported The Tacoma News-Tribune. The project is stirring controversy among area residents who say they weren't told about the tribal jail.

The new complex will offer housing for low-risk inmates from Western Washington tribes. Another jail operated by the Nisqually Indian Tribe for about nine years near its Red Wind Casino in Olympia, a couple miles from the construction site, accommodates just 90 inmates.

The initial construction phase of the Nisqually Safety Complex includes 288 beds and the support building designed for the full 576 planned beds for inmates. Other structures will be built to accommodate religious ceremonies, open air exercise, warehouse, commissary, laundry and back-up power functions, according to the project's architects KMB Design. The first stage of construction is slated to be completed in 2013. Eventually, the complex will also house the tribal police, six residential buildings, a warehouse, a courthouse and a fire station.

While the project has been publicized in Washington media outlets for several months, according to another article in The Tacoma News-Tribune, nearby residents say they never heard about the tribe's acquisition of the land or its plans. “We never heard anything from the Nisqually Nation or the county,” said Justine Schmidt, who organized a meeting of the group Neighbors for Justice on Tuesday night at Braywood Park. Conversations circulated about hiring an attorney to fight the project, while others resigned they did not have the right to interfere with the sovereign nation's right to build on its site.

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The approximately 30 Neighbors for Justice members in attendance voiced frustrations about the jail's inevitable affect on property values, neighborhood safety and traffic on residential roads. “Property values are going to plummet,” said Peter Farr, reported The Tacoma News-Tribune.

But the director of the county’s Department of Resource Stewardship, Cliff Moore, announced the next day that the county does not have regulatory authority over the project. Therefore, it would have been inappropriate for it to notify the public.

The tribe also took all necessary steps to spread the word, according to Nisqually planning director Joe Cushman. An informational letter about the availability of a draft environmental assessment of the site was sent “to all landowners surrounding the property” in July, Cushman said in an email to the Tribune. "Everything is documented, and the county seemed impressed at our thorough approach, which complied with every aspect of the (environmental assessment) and public notification and consultation process.”

Cushman told the Tribune the Nisqually Tribe is open to meeting with residents to “review the project elements, discuss ways of working better together, and (listen) to their ideas."