Utah County residents pack meeting against new prison

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Eagle Mountain • There’s a 50 percent chance the new prison will end up in Utah County — that’s where two of the four potential relocation sites are located.

While the odds might not look great, residents opposed to moving the prison to the southern edge of Eagle Mountain or outside of Fairfield aren’t close to giving up the fight.

More than 700 people showed their determination Tuesday night, packing the auditorium at Pioneer Middle School for the final of three public information meetings hosted by the Prison Relocation Commission.

Though the tone was more civil than at the previous meetings in Salt Lake City and Grantsville, the crowd shouted and booed several times when the question-and-answer panel circled back to the topic of development and property.

It all comes down to a difference in vision. On the empty rolling fields of sagebrush and tall grass in northern Utah County, the commission sees a potential 500-acre state-of-the-art prison. Residents envision more neighborhoods.

Signs sprouting up around the school matched that goal: “Eagle Mountain is more than cows and tumbleweeds,” said one. “Don’t stunt our growth,” said another.

And throughout the evening, children ran across the auditorium, past baby strollers parked on the ends of rows. Throughout the area, new houses are going up — the future homes of young families.

Robert Nardi, a consultant hired by the state, said residents are unduly concerned about the drawbacks of a prison in the area. He believes locating the penitentiary in either Utah County location would have little to no effect on property values or potential for growth because the spot will be more than 4 miles away from homes.

“The demand for development dictates property values, whether they go up or down,” he said, indicating that values could go up thanks to “recession-proof” jobs tied to a prison.

But Tami Ruflian, who’s lived in Eagle Mountain for six years, believes either new homes would eventually encroach on the prison space, as has happened in Draper, or the prison would halt development entirely.

“It’s a growing community, and I think when you put a prison here, it will stop the growth,” she said.

Ruflian and her husband have raised their three kids in Eagle Mountain, and if the state decides to build the prison in the area, she said, her family would move elsewhere.

Nardi said input from residents is “very important” and will have weight in the final decision for the relocation, but pointed out none of the potential communities is thrilled to house the new facility.

“No matter where we look — and we’ve looked at a lot — communities have not really rallied around the idea of this project,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t continue to evaluate the sites.”

State Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, co-chairman of the prison commission, said public opinion is not the determining factor: “We are equally disliked in all sites.”

The commission members repeated previous statements that there is no possibility for the prison to remain in Draper. But one audience member asked why Draper’s economic development is prioritized over Eagle Mountain’s.

Rep. Brad Wilson responded by calling Draper the “belly button” of economic growth for Utah because it benefits all taxpayers in the state. But he said Draper’s needs are not being put ahead of the relocation sites; the prison needs to be moved so that it can provide better rehabilitation opportunities and treatment programs.

He hopes the space in Draper will be converted to commercial or research use and not zoned for residential space.

Stevenson said, “We’re not considering what we’re going to do with the Draper site … That’s not the job of the Prison Relocation Commission.”

Resident Melissa Bradley, a member of the No Prison in Eagle Mountain or Fairfield group, said whichever site gets the new prison will suffer financially.

“Draper is going to win because they’re going to move it,” she said. “We’re going to lose because we’re going to get it.”

The commission is also looking at a site in Salt Lake City — about five miles west of the Salt Lake City International Airport — and another by Grantsville, in Tooele County. The four sites were whittled down from an original list of more than 50.

There will be a formal public hearing June 16 at the Utah State Capitol for residents to comment on the potential sites.

The commission will present its final recommendation to the Legislature by Aug. 1. Gov. Gary Herbert is then expected to call a special session for a vote.

Costs for the new 4,000-bed penitentiary are estimated at around $500 million, but the state will conduct more audits on the land and price before breaking ground in 2016.

Source: Courtney Tanner The Salt Lake Tribune