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Newscast 11.01.2023: Woodbury County Supervisors again discuss hiring legal help over jail opening delay; Siouxland rural water system gets $7M in federal funding

Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center
The Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center building is show in October 2023 as construction continues towards a planned opening in spring 2024.

SIOUX CITY — The Woodbury County Board of Supervisors are going into the month of November with an eye on hiring an attorney to represent them in a potential legal challenge concerning the delayed opening of the new county jail.

During the weekly county board meeting on Tuesday, Woodbury County Sheriff Chad Sheehan for the first time publicly joined the county supervisors in saying that the Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center construction delays could conceivably result in the county filing a lawsuit.

The attorney-hiring discussions have been aired by the supervisors in two October board meetings, but on Tuesday the board members ultimately voted to postpone hiring an attorney until a later meeting. One possibility discussed was hiring the Whitfield & Eddy Law Firm, of Des Moines.

With the $69 million dollar new jail facility opening going from September 2023 to the target of April 2024, the supervisors have referenced the possibility of needing legal representation to process whether the county has a legal claim concerning a financial impact associated with the delay.

At the county supervisors meeting on October 10, several members of the public asked for accountability related to the delay in the jail opening.

Matthew Ung, who is chairman of the county board, has said the financial impacts of the delayed opening are being felt in terms of construction cost overruns and lost revenues, from a delay in receiving budgeted fees that come from housing federal inmates.

The role of the county supervisors is in funding the jail, primarily from property taxes coming from an approved bond issue vote. A second entity involved in the project, the Woodbury County Jail Authority, handles day-to-day oversight of the construction activities. The biggest cause of the delay was the September discovery that a building element, called dampers, which help when fires break out, was not included.

Woodbury County voters in March 2020 passed a bond issue initiative to build a jail on the northeast side of Sioux City 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.

The facility has 448 jail cells, courtrooms and offices, and will replace the downtown Sioux City jail that dates to 1987.

In other news, a rural water entity has received a $7 million infusion that will help fund a water treatment plant to aid the delivery of water throughout Siouxland. 

The administration of President Biden announced $7 million in infrastructure money will go to the Lewis and Clark Rural Water System to finish the final phase of a water treatment plant in Vermillion, South Dakota.

Troy Larson, the executive director of the Lewis and Clark system, said the ongoing drought conditions have shown that it can be difficult to have enough water sources. Larson said water is a key piece of infrastructure and also of economic development, because without it, communities would be at risk.

The cities of Sioux Center, Hull, and Rock Rapids in Northwest Iowa already get their water from the Lewis and Clark Rural Water System that serves communities in Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota. Sheldon is expected to go online in November, and then Sibley will be added in 2025, Larson explained.