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Capitol Dispatch: Local lawmakers strategize to save Naselle Youth Camp, again

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Capitol Dispatch

Editor’s note: Capitol Dispatch appears every Sunday during the legislative session.

State legislators say they’ve been working behind the scenes to save Naselle Youth Camp from the state chopping block — and its prospects look good.

“I’m hearing favorable rumblings from all four corners about the importance and the good work that they do at Naselle with the kids,” said state Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, of the 19th Legislative District.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s two-year budget proposal included cutting the rehab center for juvenile offenders to save $7.5 million, and capital project bills in the House and Senate included plans to use the space for minimum-security prisons for adults.

But bills — introduced in the House and Senate on Jan. 26 — to create a new state Department of Children, Youth and Families included Naselle Youth Camp.

It’s far from the first time the rehab center for juvenile offenders has been a target for state cuts. Both Takko and Blake have been down this road before, most recently in 2011.

“I always caution people, if you’re gonna go to bat for Naselle, you don’t go talking about the jobs,” said state Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview. “It’s just making the case of, why would you want to cut a good program? In the end people seem to listen to that.”

In a town with a small population of about 400, the camp has more than 100 employees and is credited as a large part of Naselle’s economy. But Takko says that’s not enough to make a case in Olympia.

If the camp were to close, juveniles would transfer to Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie or Green Hill School in Chehalis. Senate and House bills on operations also say $440,000 appropriated to forest work crews that support correctional camps would be contingent on the Naselle Youth Camp remaining open.

Takko says the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration has interests in keeping more central locations, making the Naselle Youth Camp “the ugly step child” among the JRA’s facilities.

“I think JRA doesn’t really fight hard enough for it,” he said. “They just want to have it more centralized in an urban environment.”

The two moderate Democrats of the 19th District have said they work well with Republican leaders, including state Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee. But newly elected state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, said he hopes he can contribute by providing information on developments across the aisle on issues like Naselle.

Walsh, who testified in support of Naselle last month in front of the House Appropriations Committee, said Naselle was a kind of “litmus test” for how well he can coordinate with Blake.

“We really have eyes in both caucuses now,” Walsh said in an earlier interview. “I see that x-y-z is happening over here. We’re able to let each other know what to expect and what’s shaping up.”

Contact Daily News reporter Hayat Norimine at 360-577-7828

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