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Peasley Canyon still in running for sex offender housing, but...

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

There are bright spots on the horizon for families fearful of sex offenders moving into Peasley Canyon, but state officials are warning the end is not yet in sight.

For three months, Peasley Canyon residents have been fighting the potential location there of a transitional home for Level III sex offenders who serve their time in prison, undergo treatment at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island and become eligible for transition back into society.

The state’s site search began in earnest last year after a U.S. District Court judge said a transitional housing facility under construction on McNeil would not provide adequate opportunities for reintegration into society, including access to treatment, services and jobs.

The state has accumulated more than $7 million in fines since then for not providing alternative housing, though the federal court could waive them if the state finds what it considers an adequate site.

The state has appealed the federal court ruling, saying no one has proven that McNeil Island is insufficient. An appellate court decision on the appeal is expected by May.

After the Department of Social and Health Services announced in December that Peasley Canyon was one of three sites (along with Orillia Road and a site in Carnation that has since been dropped from consideration) for a transitional facility, concerned citizens in south King County formed a non-profit organization and hired an attorney to help them fight the facility.

Meanwhile, King County officials sent letters to the state asking for further consideration of industrial and commercial sites.

DSHS found a potentially viable option on forest land in North Bend, but residents and lawmakers there have opposed it.

Still, south King County residents are somewhat relieved the state’s scope appears to be broadening.

DSHS spokesman Steve Williams said the department is “very optimistic we’re going to get a couple more (possible) sites,” but added that doesn’t mean Peasley Canyon or Orillia Road will be dropped from consideration.

While the state continues to explore industrial and commercial site opportunities, Williams said things are falling into place for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) trust land, which is located near the fire training facility in northeast King County.

“We’re not there. A few more pieces have to fall into place,” he said, but added Sheriff Dave Reichert recently sent a letter to state officials promising his department will be able to respond to the site within the 15-minute time limit set by the state.

The only sticking point, Williams said, is whether DNR will lease to DSHS.

“You have to be able to lease or buy,” Williams said. “That’s the big hurdle.”

The land is being held by the state in common school trust. It was given to the state at statehood to generate money to build schools.

“It’s the state’s forever,” DNR spokesman Todd Myers said, which means the land would never be sold, only leased.

Still, leasing trust land for commercial purposes is one way the state brings in revenue, along with harvesting timber and minerals and leasing it for agricultural uses.

Before deciding how much rent to charge DSHS, DNR would weigh how much the state might lose if it couldn’t harvest timber or minerals from the site.

DNR also would review zoning regulations before agreeing to a lease contract. “There are a lot of considerations,” Myers said.

DSHS has inquired about the land, Myers said, but no specific assessments or appraisals have been conducted yet.

“At this point, the ball is in their court,” he said. “They have a lot of work to do.”

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

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