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Newscast 09.06.23: The Woodbury County Supervisors talk about cost overruns and delays in the building of the new Law Enforcement Center

Woodbury County Supervisor Mathew Ung at the September 5, 2023 board meeting
Woodbury County Supervisor Mathew Ung at the September 5, 2023 board meeting

SPM Newscast Wednesday, Sept.6, 2023

The new $69 million Woodbury County jail facility opening will be delayed from the previously projected date of Sept. 14, as the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors attempt to find out the reasons for that.

The jail opening may not occur until later this year, Woodbury County Board Chairman Matthew Ung told Siouxland Public Media on Wednesday.

Ung recapped the action taken by the supervisors in their weekly meeting Tuesday to name a new board of supervisors representative to the Law Enforcement Center Authority, which is the governing body that handles key jail project details. Ung said the county supervisors have heard no information from any of the three Authority members in any 2023 public meetings as to how the jail construction was proceeding.

Therefore, the county supervisors on Tuesday voted to change the county’s representative on the Authority to Supervisor Mark Nelson. Nelson succeeds Rocky DeWitt, a former county supervisor who is now a state legislator.

Ung said the county supervisors handle the task of directing county funding to pay for the jail, which will replace the downtown Sioux City jail that dates to 1987. He said the authority members handle the other major tasks such as working with the contractors, architects and other key details to getting the jail built.

Woodbury County voters in March 2020 passed a bond issue initiative to build a jail with an estimated pricetag of $54 million, But cost overruns associated with supply chain difficulties and national inflation soon thereafter boosted the cost to $69 million,

Ung said he expects Nelson will give the county supervisors an update next week, after the next planned authority meeting of September 12.

Ung said he first got a sense that the jail opening could be delayed after he recently heard from a judge, who was questioning when jury trials might be held in the new facility, since some courtrooms will also be included with the jail that has 448 beds..

Ung said the notices that go out to prospective jurors involve planning timelines for 90 days out, so conceivably the LEC building might not open until December.

Ung said a jail opening delay will have a financial impact, as the county has budgeted receiving revenues of $1.2 million from the federal government for housing some federal inmates, over the period from fall 2022 through June 2024.

“We thought we would be operating by mid-October,” Ung said.

Chairman Ung also noted that DeWitt spoke during the Tuesday county supervisors meeting, although DeWitt did not address an opening date. DeWitt did cite that the authority members had been told not to discuss some details, due to the possibility of a lawsuit.

Additionally, skies are hazy in much of Siouxland on Wednesday, and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, and Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy have issued a smoke advisory for eastern Nebraska that runs through midday Thursday.

Those Nebraska departments say the Air Quality Index for eastern and central parts of the state is in the Moderate to Unhealthy range. They said the reason for the reduced air quality is because of smoke associated with Canadian wildfires.

During Moderate Air Quality Index conditions, those who are unusually sensitive to particle pollution may experience health effects. People should consider shortening outdoor activities and reducing the intensity of these

activities. Symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath are signs to take it easier.

During Unhealthy index conditions, sensitive groups of people, such as those with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children, are advised to reduce prolonged or heavy exertion and avoid intense outdoor activities.

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