No vote on bill to move Utah State Prison

Posted at 8:41 PM, Feb 19, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-20 00:43:50-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A bill that would fast-track the process to move the Utah State Prison did not get a vote in its first hearing before a legislative committee on Monday.

The bill was brought before the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, but lawmakers ran out of time to consider it. Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said the potential windfall for the state could be huge and the time is right to move the Draper facility.

"In the end, the windfall will come to us as taxpayers in the form of close to $20 billion in economic value down there, and the development will provide close to 40,000 jobs," he told committee members on Monday.

Jenkins conceded the plan could cost as much as $500 million to move the Utah State Prison -- but he said studies offset the cost somewhat by selling the land the existing prison sits on at Point of the Mountain for as much as $140 million.

He is proposing creating a local authority to ensure the process moves quickly. It would, he said, include input from developers as they move the process forward.

"One of the reasons we've kind of fast tracked this is because of that window of opportunity is low interest rates and low construction costs," Jenkins told FOX 13. "If they move too far, the window closes and then we can't do it anymore."

The Utah State Prison at Draper sits on prime real-estate, with developers always looking at the 700-acre campus just off I-15. Governor Gary Herbert has spoken in support of moving it and creating a technology campus. But speaking to reporters on Monday, the governor said he'd rather "do it right than quick."

"It is important that whatever we do, when it comes to the prison relocation discussion, is done in the best interest of the taxpayers," Herbert said.

At Monday's hearing, critics lined up to speak in opposition to it. Sanpete County Commissioner Jon Cox, who represents the area where the Gunnison prison sits, wanted to ensure that rural voices were represented in the discussion.

Others said it was about developers making money at the expense of taxpayers.

"Do you know what that sounds like? It sounds like an Obama stimulus plan!" local activist Jesse Fruhwirth said sarcastically to the committee. "Let's spend some money and just hope there will be some ethereal jobs that someday those people will pay enough taxes that somehow this will all make sense. Well, that's not how we do it here in Utah!"