SALT LAKE CITY — There are now just three sites in contention for a new state prison, in Salt Lake City, Eagle Mountain and near Grantsville, but other possibilities will be considered through January, a legislative commission decided Monday.
The Prison Relocation Commission on Monday cut the list of locations to replace the aging Utah State Prison in Draper in half after about 150 residents of the communities under consideration rallied on the steps of the state Capitol.
The commission’s action eliminates sites in West Jordan and Saratoga Springs, where landowners had already withdrawn their offers, along with a site north of Salt Lake City International Airport with costly wetland issues.
While there will be an in-depth look at the Salt Lake City site near I-80 and 7200 West, the Eagle Mountain site, and the Tooele County site adjacent to the Miller Motorsports Park, the commission also agreed to allow other sites to be considered for the $450 million project.
The motion, by Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, directed commission leaders to continue to solicit possible site offers even if they are farther away from the Draper prison’s employees, volunteers and inmate families, and court and medical facilities.
“We have spent a lot of time and a lot of effort finding these now three sites,” the commission’s co-chairman, House Majority Assistant Whip-elect Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said.
Although extending the search could mean the process would last beyond the 2015 Legislature, Wilson said “there may be some sites that are slightly more remote that could be palatable or more palatable to the communities we’ve talked about.”
After the meeting, he said “less than half-a-dozen” new sites have already been submitted to the commission in the past 30 days, though none have passed an initial screening process.
“I’m a little bit skeptical, but we’ll see,” Wilson said of the possibility of identifying new sites by the end of January that would then go through a 60- to 90-day evaluation.
The commission’s other co-chairman, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, told reporters he still hopes to have a recommended site for the Legislature before the end of the 45-day session that starts in late January.
Stevenson also was not optimistic about finding more potential sites, saying while the commission’s choice may not be one of the three sites advanced Monday, “there’s a pretty good likelihood it will be.”
House Speaker-elect Greg Hughes, R-Draper, a member of the commission, said during the meeting that lawmakers have conducted the search openly because “we don’t want this to be politicized any more than it inherently is.”
Hughes, who has touted the economic benefits of developing the prime real estate the prison now sits on, said if lawmakers decide moving the prison is “just too hard to do,” it will end up being relocated in a much less public way.
“You have not decided not to move a prison,” the incoming speaker said, but instead to revert “back to what the process looks like without the Prison Relocation Commission” where state officials simply secure land for the project.
A public engagement plan
The commission, which again did not take public testimony, also approved what it called a public engagement plan intended to help communities understand the selection process and the benefits of a prison.
The plan, which could include community open houses as well as brochures and newsletters spelling out, for example, the $238 million price tag over 20 years just to maintain the decades-old prison, does not yet have a timeline.
Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall vowed to continue fighting putting a prison anywhere in Tooele County. He said the consultants that evaluated the site now on the list didn’t consider the community’s economic development efforts.
“We need to get all of our facts and figures together,” Marshall said, “so that we can make a reasonable argument.”
Clara Bartell, of Eagle Mountain, said she wasn’t surprised her community is still a possible site for a new prison.
“I’m sad,” she said. “It is a master planned community. It’s not like we’re just hanging out there with the coyotes and the sagebrush. There is a plan for things out there. It is growing. They are building.”
At the rally, participants braved the cold to wave signs, shout chants that included, “Leave it where it is,” and hear from speaker after speaker raising concerns about moving the prison.
Drew Curly, a co-founder of the Keep It in Draper website and Facebook page, asked the rally participants: “In what crazy world” does it make sense to relocate rather than renovate the existing prison?
Rally organizer Alisa Cazer said there is growing support for keeping the prison in place. Cazer, who lives in West Jordan, said speaking out against a prison there helped get a site near state Route 111 off the list.
“I feel like our voices had a lot to with it because it would be a baseball throw away from the closest backyard,” she said, and cost schools needed property tax revenues. “I think bringing out those issues has helped a lot.”
With his 2 ½-year-old daughter, Andee, in his arms, Grantsville resident Andrew Collier said his family “didn’t move to a place with a lower crime race and a nice peaceful place to raise our kids just to have them build a prison a few miles from our house.”