Saratoga Springs one of four potential prison sites, but not interested

Utah Land

SALT LAKE CITY — Private property in Saratoga Springs is one of four sites being considered for a new prison to replace the aging facility at Point of the Mountain, but city officials don’t want it there.

“We don’t have an interest in it being in our community,” Owen Jackson, manager of public relations and economic development for the Utah County community, said Friday. “It doesn’t fit.”

Jackson said Saratoga Springs was just notified this week that the Legislature’s Prison Relocation Commission had the site on its short list and will “work with the commission to make sure the needs of our community are met.”

The commission’s co-chairman, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, said he was unaware of the city’s reluctance but isn’t interested in getting into a fight over putting the $471 million project there.

“It would be difficult. I don’t think we want to get into land wars and lawsuits,” Stevenson said. Even though the property is privately owned, he said the state would “still have to work with the municipality. I don’t think we live in a bubble.”

The senator described the Saratoga Springs site as having “neighbors that are probably compatible” with a prison — a power corridor, Camp Williams, Bureau of Land Management property and an asphalt plant.

“Those are things that would not be intrusive next to a prison. It’s something nobody wants to build houses on,” Stevenson said.

He said the site is in the range of 500 acres, more than the 150 to 300 usable acres being sought by the state.

Russ Fotheringham, Utah County economic development manager for the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, said he was aware the Utah County site on the commission’s shortlist wasn’t interested.

Fotheringham said he told the commission’s consultant, “I don’t think that there’s any interest in having that prison relocated in Utah County anywhere.” But he said he still wants to pursue the prison for Utah County.

The three other sites identified by the commission to replace the Utah State Prison in Draper are all in Salt Lake County, Stevenson said, and include private property in both municipalities and the unincorporated county.

Two additional sites in Tooele County were toured last week by the commission’s site selection committee, he said, but were taken off the list largely because of concerns about the distance from the current prison in Draper.

The six sites scored the highest on criteria set by the commission in September. Proximity to the staff, volunteers and families of inmates at the Point of the Mountain prison was the most heavily weighted, accounting for 35 of 100 points.

Community acceptance is worth 15 points under the criteria.

The commission is not making public the sites culled from some 27 locations for a new prison proposed to the commission because the state’s open meeting laws allows government real estate transactions to be kept private.

Stevenson said the state is currently negotiating refundable earnest-money agreements with the owners of the property under consideration, using the $3 million allocated by the Legislature to secure a site.

If the agreements can be reached in time, Stevenson said the sites could be announced at the commission’s next meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Room 415 at the state Capitol.

After visiting Tooele County, he said it “may be a great site to build a prison, but it’s not a great site to get to.” Other concerns were the lack of utilities and lukewarm community support.

Tooele County residents were split on relocating the prison there, with 44 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed in a survey conducted this summer for the Tooele County Health Department.

Al Mansell, a former state Senate president and real estate broker, is part of a partnership that has tried to sell the state on moving the prison since 2010 to a site near Grantsville just off I-80.

Mansell said he hadn’t heard about that and another Tooele site being rejected.

“I think the distance issues are probably severely overblown,” he said.

Mansell said he also believes there’s more support in Tooele for the partnership’s site, located behind a mountain and not visible from Grantsville.

The state needs to get moving on the project, he said, before interest rates increase and make it too expensive.

“If we keep waiting, we won’t have to worry about it because we won’t be able to afford it,” Mansell said.

Stevenson said the Tooele sites could end up back on the list now that Saratoga Springs appears to be out of the running. The commission is expected to have a final recommendation ready for the 2015 Legislature that begins meeting in January.

“We’re a long way from done,” he said. “But I think we are moving forward.”

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