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County to sell would-be jail site

TOPPENISH - Yakima County once dreamed of building its new jail in Toppenish, even buying land there for that very purpose.

The dream came to a halt when the 38 acres the county bought near Toppenish for $580,000 turned out to lack sufficient water rights to serve a jail population of up to 500 inmates.

County commissioners looked elsewhere and ultimately built the jail near the fairgrounds.

But they still had all that acreage over in Toppenish and, after deciding not to file a claim against the city for allegedly falsely misrepresenting the water situation, leased it out to a farmer.

Yesterday, Tuesday, commissioners decided to cut bait for good and put the land up for sale to the highest bidder.

Speaking by phone on Monday, County Commissioner Ron Gamache noted, "I felt the city of Toppenish needed some sort of enterprise but we had a glitch with the water." Gamache said there's enough water on the land, zoned for industrial uses, to serve a warehouse or business, but "it's not enough to handle 500 toilets flushing at a time."

Gamache said the idea of selling the land came about last year when the county went through a "facilities 2020" process in an overall review of land and facilities the county owns.

With yesterday's decision to sell the land, Gamache said the county hopes to not only recoup the initial costs of purchasing the Toppenish land, but put the property back on the tax rolls for revenue purposes.

Gamache said the current lease with a farmer brings in some funds, but in the big scheme of things it's land the county doesn't need.

The commissioners' decision to sell the land will be forwarded to the county treasurer and Gamache said it will take about 90 days before the bidding period is firmed up. An April or May timeframe is likely.

Gamache, for one, is ready to move on and complete the sale of the would-be jail site. "We'd like to go out and hunt for a buyer as soon as possible."

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