Jail task force will have diverse views

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette The Houghton County Board votes on a task force to study the construction of a new jail, as well as cost estimates for three options, at its meeting Tuesday.

HOUGHTON — The Houghton County Board approved the creation of a task force to consider options for the construction of a new county jail Tuesday, as well as obtaining cost estimates for three jail options.

Representing the county government on the task force will be the board and Planning Commission, as well as the sheriff, undersheriff and jail captain.

Also appointing members will be the 14 Houghton County townships; villages of Calumet, Laurium, Copper City, Lake Linden, and South Range; cities of Houghton and Hancock; two law enforcement officers from units besides the Sheriff’s Office; League of Women Voters; Copper Country Mental Health; and the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce.

The county will also seek participation from the district and circuit courts, jail inmate services, parole/probation and indigent defense.

The county will ask to have nominations to the task force made by the board’s May meeting.

It will also seek cost estimates from local engineers for three options:

•Renovating Camp Kitwen into a suitable county jail, as well as of the cost increases that would come with running it.

•Building an all-new courthouse and jail complex at another location.

•Building a new jail at the former Houghton High School playground site, including an option for District Court facilities.

The board adopted recommendations it created at its Committee of the Whole meeting Monday discussing the jail issue. The county has tried coming up with a solution to the jail issue multiple times, most recently with an $11 million proposal to build an addition behind the courthouse. The proposal was narrowly defeated in November.

Houghton County should explore the idea of a joint facility with involvement from Baraga, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties, Houghton County Board Commissioner Roy Britz said at Monday’s meeting.

Britz offered the suggestion in response to the often-repeated suggestion by members of the public that Camp Kitwen, a closed minimum-security prison camp near Painesdale, could serve as a jail.

“There’s a lot of logistics involved in Kitwen, but I truly think we have to exhaust it and come to a positive answer, yes or no,” he said.

Estimates in 2010 put the cost at $5.5 million to renovate Camp Kitwen into a county jail, County Board Chairman Al Koskela said. The same analysis showed an increase of $486,000 annually in operating costs plus $96,000 a year in additional utility costs.

County officials tried to arrange a tour of the facility before last year’s elections. The Department of Corrections authorized visiting the grounds and exterior. The DOC barred going inside due to “potential health and safety concerns.”

The timetable for a proposal has not been determined.

Setting a special election for a proposal would cost about $20,000, Clerk Jennifer Kelly said. The earliest election for which the county would be fully reimbursed is November 2020.