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Not here, either, says North Bend

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

An estimated 150 people participated in an organized protest of potential sex offender housing at Peasley Canyon last Saturday. They walked several blocks from New Heart Church, the staging point, to the location proposed by the Department of Social and Health Services for the sex offender housing.

The crowd, which included numerous children, chanted opposition slogans and carried signs.

Of the 13 members on the King County Council, eight signed a letter asking DSHS Secretary Dennis Braddock to drop two proposed south county sites –– Peasley Canyon, which is between Federal Way and Auburn, and Orillia Road near Seatac –– as potential locations for the facility, which will house up to a dozen sex offenders who have received treatment at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island and are ready to begin transitioning into society.

But council members David Irons, Rob McKenna and Kathy Lambert sent their own letter to DSHS last week, denouncing the forest production area in north King County as a potential site for the sex offenders.

North Bend Mayor Joan Simpson joined the opposition against locating the facility in the town she governs.

The state is under a federal court order to find less-restrictive housing alternatives for the men, who served their sentences but were ordered into ongoing treatment after their release from prison.

Federal judges ruled last year that McNeil Island didn’t provide sufficient access to services and job opportunities. The state appealed the ruling and the state attorney general argued the case in 9th Circuit Court last month. The panel of three judges is expected to make a decision on the appeal within three months.

County Council members and state legislators have been pushing the state and the county executive to find non-residential areas for the facility.

DSHS identified about a dozen potential industrial sites, as well as the fire training center in North Bend. Last Wednesday, DSHS officials visited six of the industrial sites and the fire training center to get a better feel for each.

Spokesman Steve Williams said DSHS is “still digesting” the information gathered from each site. None of the sites —including Peasley Canyon and Orillia Road — has been removed from the list, he said.

Meanwhile, DSHS is reviewing the letters received from County Council members. “We’re just going to have to have our attorneys look at them and advise us on what to do,” Williams said.

Councilman Pete von Reichbauer, whose district includes Federal Way, signed the letter urging Braddock to consider the North Bend site because he said the forest production district there makes more sense. It has a tenth of the population, it’s accessible and there is adequate transportation, he said.

“The state came up with two outrageously poor choices,” he said, referring to Peasley Canyon and Orillia Road. “If we’re going to have to deal with the rules set by the Legislature and DSHS, this is the most acceptable (location).”

But Lambert, McKenna and Irons spoke out in opposition to the North Bend site, saying the forest production district is inappropriate because it’s remote and “lacks the basic infrastructure to ensure the safety and welfare of our citizens who live in and near” the district, McKenna said.

Von Reichbauer said he wouldn’t have supported the Peasley Canyon site even if it wasn’t in his district because the area is so predominantly residential. North Bend, on the other hand, has the required public amenities without having the population density of south King County, he said.

“This (North Bend) is not an isolated area, but it is an area removed from residential communities,” he said. “It’s easier to maintain, it’s easier to protect and, for the general public, it’s easier to avoid.”

McKenna disagreed, saying the site is isolated (“This site is an island in the forest production district”) but still relatively close to residential areas.

Peasley Canyon and Orillia Road also are bad sites for the transitional facility, he said, but at least they’re getting a more review than the North Bend site, which is why he signed the letter to Braddock.

An estimated 150 people participated in an organized protest of the Peasley Canyon site last Saturday. They walked several blocks from New Heart Church, the staging point, to the location proposed by DSHS for the sex offender housing.

The crowd, which included numerous children, chanted opposition slogans and carried signs.

Staff writer Erica Jahn: 925-5565, ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

Photographer Fumiko Yarita-Bonham contributed to this report.

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