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Thursday, November 30, 2023
Nov. 30, 2023

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Battle Ground urges state to keep Larch Corrections Center operating

City council passes resolution citing facility’s value to city

By , Columbian staff writer

The city of Battle Ground on Monday joined a growing list of local governments opposed to the planned closure of Larch Corrections Center near Yacolt.

With no discussion beforehand, the Battle Ground City Council unanimously approved a resolution that “strongly urges” the state Department of Corrections to reverse its decision.

Corrections announced in June it will close the minimum-security prison by October. Officials said the decision was due to a decline in the statewide prison population.

Since the announcement, corrections employees and others have lobbied to keep the facility open.

As many of the employees at the Larch center live in or near Battle Ground, the resolution said closing the facility will impact the city’s economic viability. The closure will also hurt families of incarcerated individuals, the city said.

“The closure would cause family members to travel further for visitation causing undue stress and increased costs,” the resolution states.

Opponents of the closure argue the corrections center, which has trained fire crews used in fighting wildfires across the state for more than six decades, provides an essential service to Clark County residents.

“The eastern portion of Clark County near Battle Ground consists primarily of vast woodlands susceptible to wildfire that is very challenging to fight,” the resolution states. “(That) same portion of the county has severely burned several times over the past 125 years, including the Yacolt Burn in 1902, which burned 238,920 acres of timber, and most recently the Nakia (Creek) Fire last summer that resulted in the evacuation of hundreds of households.”

The Clark County Council adopted a similar resolution at its July 25 meeting that also asked the Department of Corrections to reverse course.

The closure announcement fell flat with some state lawmakers, too, including 18th District Rep. Greg Cheney.

Cheney, R-Battle Ground, issued a statement July 13 calling the decision “surprising and shortsighted.” Cheney said it will leave the state shorthanded when fighting wildfires.

Since announcing Larch’s impending closure, the Department of Corrections sent a letter to Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz on July 7 saying there would be no loss of service in its fire response.

“Our plan is to dedicate 70 beds for partial confinement individuals at Longview Reentry Center in lieu of the beds at Larch Corrections Center to provide that same level of fire suppression coverage to the area,” Deputy Secretary Sean Murphy wrote.

In addition to the beds in Longview, Murphy said the department is prepared to deploy trained firefighting crews from the seven other facilities with crews to help with firefighting as necessary.

To view the resolution, go to https://shorturl.at/guvCG.

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