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Utah lawmakers tasked with moving a prison no one seems to want

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Posted at 8:41 PM, Dec 03, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-03 23:34:17-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Where do you move an entire prison that no one seems to want?

That’s the issue a group of lawmakers is facing right now. The State Prison Relocation Commission announced their short list for possible new homes to the Utah State Prison, and they were met with pushback immediately.

“Keeping it in Draper is the best option,” said Heidi Balderree, a Utah County resident.

She and others packed the commission’s meeting Thursday to voice their concerns about the prison moving into their neighborhoods.

“Why does Draper want to get rid of it? It's not appealing. It doesn't up your real estate value to have a penitentiary and criminals in your backyard,” said longtime Saratoga Springs resident, Stephanie Follett.

The commission narrowed down potential new sites for the prison from 26 to six locations, with three in Salt Lake County, two in Utah County and one in Tooele County.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker has already submitted a lengthy response in opposition to two of the sites, which would be north of the Salt Lake City International Airport or near I-80 and 7200 West.

“We have many concerns from geological and environmental concerns, infrastructure costs, wetlands on both properties, concerns that it would limit the growth and expansion of the airport down the road,” said Jill Love, the Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff.

City officials in West Jordan, which encompasses the third site in the county, are also opposed.

According to the commission, the site almost didn’t make the list because city officials feared it would jeopardize a business deal in the area. However, the location wound up being the top selection on the list.

“Relocating the prison to West Jordan will not resolve the issues currently facing the existing prison site,” West Jordan Mayor Kim V. Rolfe said, “I seriously hope the Prison Relocation Commission reconsiders its actions and the impact it will have on our city. I will fight this with every resource at my disposal.”

The complaints did not stop the commission from moving forward with the six locations. A motion to consider them further was passed unanimously, however, members said they would face further scrutiny and could be changed.

“I think any of us on the commission would have to be both deaf and blind to not realize that there are an awful lot of folks here that have an opinion about at least one of them,” said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns.

Lawmakers have been debating whether or not to move the Draper prison for years. Due to maintenance costs and real estate opportunities at its current location, the legislature decided to take action.

Consultants helped determine the possible locations through a screening process. They considered a variety of factors, including proximity to staff, the court systems and the current prison; environmental concerns and land area.

“This could all change. We have not closed the door on site proposals,” said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the commission’s co-chairman.

The commission has another meeting scheduled for December 22, at which point they hope to have a better idea of what locations are still an option.