By Dana M. Nichols

SAN ANDREAS – A new Calaveras County Jail and courts complex will likely be built on land the county government already owns, top county officials said Tuesday.

The pronouncement is a dramatic turnaround from a few weeks ago, when the county Board of Supervisors appeared poised to use eminent domain power to take 57 acres north of the existing government center along West Murray Creek Road.

An attorney for Greg Opinski, the owner of half the land, warned on Jan. 8 that he didn’t believe the county would be able to complete an eminent domain seizure in time to qualify for up to $30 million in state jail construction money.

Calaveras County Counsel Jim Jones didn’t mention that prediction directly Tuesday, but he advised the Board of Supervisors to forget about eminent domain and instead see if it will be possible to negotiate a purchase.

Interim County Administrative Officer Brent Harrington went further, telling the board “we are not near on price.”

Harrington said he met with architects for both the jail and for the state body that oversees courts and said they are drawing up plans both for the West Murry Creek site and for land the county owns along Red Barn Road between the existing government center and the public library in San Andreas.

Calaveras County Sheriff Dennis Downum said he supported going ahead on the assumption the jail will be built on Red Barn Road.

“We have to walk in there on the 18th of March with a plan,” Downum said of the deadline for applying for $30 million in state jail construction money.

Calaveras County voters in November approved a facilities bond measure, $10 million of which would provide matching money needed to qualify for the state jail construction funding. The existing Calaveras County Jail is so small that hundreds of inmates are released each year before they complete their sentences.