Sherburne County has learned the proposal to expand the jail for Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been denied.

Officials were notified in July they had not met minimum National Environmental Policy Act requirements.

They have also since learned none of the proposals within the region they are part of are moving forward, Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott said.

Where does that leave Sherburne County? Brott doesn’t know, but he remains optimistic that a contract extension is on the horizon and maybe even an expansion as they continue their partnership with the federal government.

Brott told the Star News on Aug. 22 they have put in a request to the federal government to renegotiate their current contract that spells out the county’s relationship with the U.S. Marshals and ICE, but have not heard back at this point. The agreement runs out in 2022.

“We’re just waiting to hear back,” he said. 

“People say, ‘what do you mean you haven’t heard.’ There are decision makers in D.C. and we’re simply waiting to hear from them.”

The proposal that was denied apparently lacked a required study similar to the ones that are used to gather soil samples and such information before undertaking a building project, Brott said, adding that this particular study goes way beyond what information is typically gathered. 

The county would have needed another six months of lead time to complete the study before the May 20 deadline. Former Sherburne County Administrator Steve Taylor and the public works department did submit nearly 100 pages of documentation of related material, Brott said, but that didn’t qualify for the project to move along in the process.

On Aug. 14, Reps. Ilhan Omar and Tom Emmer along with Rep. Nick Zerwas, two Sherburne County Commissioners (Tim Dolan and Lisa Fobbe) and new Sherburne County Administrator Bruce Messelt heard a presentation on the jail and got a tour of it.

A group called Sanctuary and Resistance to Injustice, composed of many from local churches like Elk River Lutheran and Union Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, continues to protest any and all continuation or expansion of the jail operations for ICE. 

Their protests did not affect the outcome of the proposal, and the denial is not likely to stop them from ramping up their advocacy efforts. 

Brott said he has grown tired of and frustrated with them and their “false narrative.”

A few dozen protesters turned out at the Aug. 20 Sherburne County Board meeting, and they were granted time to address the board during its regular meeting.

Three people spoke, including the Rev. Robin Raudabaugh of the Union Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Elk River. She thanked the board for allowing the time for her and some others to speak. She read parts of a resolution she asked board members to read and consider adopting at its Sept. 17 meeting. 

The resolution calls into question jail practices and conditions for detainees.

The resolution calls for many things, including that all efforts to expand the jail for ICE be ceased and that ICE be informed that the county will not seek to extend its current contract.

It also calls for all jail officials from the county, the U.S. Marshals and ICE wear body cameras and for a comprehensive report detailing the treatment of all detainees.

Brott says their claims are falsehoods an innuendo. The sheriff told the Star News he has asked the Rev. Raudabaugh and others to sit down for a meeting several times and they won’t.

“She does not want to know the facts,” Brott said. “She wants to push the mission of the advocacy group. I understand the passion, but not at the expense of credibility and the reputations of people. Their claims are based on false information.”

County officials got direction from the Sherburne County Board on May 7 to put its “best foot forward” with a request to expand its facility by 200 beds, bringing the total number of beds for detainees to 500. They submitted their request on May 20, which was the deadline for such proposals.

ICE is interested in meeting its needs with an expansion that would provide them 500 beds. 

Sherburne County has a long history of partnering with the federal government to provide beds and the economics of it have been beneficial to the county.

Currently there are more than 60 jobs and a total of $11.7 million worth of added economic impact at stake. 

An expansion of the magnitude proposed would have doubled that impact with the need for an additional 60-some full-time staff and another $11 million of added value economically.

With all that also came an opportunity to improve the jail for all its inmates with an improved core (kitchen, laundry area, and shipping and receiving, to name three elements) and access to better medical and mental health services that come with the requirement of increased standards.

Commissioners agreed to go all out, rather than risk losing what it has built previously.

“We’ve done this for 30 years - right, wrong or indifferent,” Brott said at a May 7 meeting. “We have housed federal inmates for 30 years, not just ICE detainees. It’s not new to us.”

ICE, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, has partnered with Sherburne County over the years through an intergovernmental agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service to have space for detainees. In 2017, ICE created a separate agreement with Sherburne County for 300 beds, whether they’re filled or not.  

Now it’s looking to expand, and it put out a 200-page request for proposals, which provides a detailed road map on what to assemble to craft a competitive proposal.

Commissioner Raeanne Danielowski acknowledged the “divisiveness” of immigration as a topic in America on May 7 and said she was struck by the huge positive impact for the area the jail and an expansion would have.

Sherburne’s proposal was not expected to have been the only proposal, as there is talk of several proposals coming forward, including one from a private firm. Brott said, however, he has no way of knowing who ultimately submitted proposals.

Sherburne’s current agreement runs out in 2022 and could result in huge economic fallout, starting with the loss of 63 full-time jobs paying nearly $4.2 million annually in salary and benefits and a total loss of economic benefit of $11.7 million when looking at direct, indirect and induced impacts, according to Assistant County Administrator Dan Weber.

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