SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's Prison Relocation Commission unanimously voted to move the prison from its current location in Draper to a site near the Salt Lake City International Airport.
After years of study and months of debate where every community that was considered vocally opposed it, the commission settled on Salt Lake City's site near I-80 and 7200 West. Prison relocation consultants said it would cost the most upfront (nearly $154 million, in addition to a $550 million facility) but long term, it would be cheaper than the other sites.
From the presentation:
"When we started getting long-term operating costs back, that was something that tipped the scales considerably," said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, who co-chaired the Prison Relocation Commission.
The existing site in Draper is being eyed for development, with some claiming it could yield more than a billion in economic benefits to the state if turned into a tech center.
The Salt Lake City site has plenty of available land, but prison consultants noted there were environmental issues including wetlands and an old landfill nearby. But the site had the cheapest utilities, excellent access to services like courts and hospitals and easy access for employees and prison volunteers.
There is also no issue with nearby residential areas. The site is zoned industrial and it's west of the Salt Lake City International Airport.
"The residential zoning won't even be an issue," said Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City. "So it's compatible where it is and I think it's the best place."
After the vote, prison relocation opponents breathed a sigh of relief.
"All our prayers have been answered!" said Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall. "This is not something our community wanted."
Stephanie Gricius, who heads a group called "Keep It In Draper," said no community would benefit from a prison.
"I think it's a great thing for the three sites that weren't chosen," she said. "I do think the prison will be a burden in any community it's moved to."
Utah Department of Corrections Executive Director Rollin Cook said a new prison would be important for criminal justice reforms passed by the legislature. But Salt Lake City officials planned to do what they could to block it.
"I know the majority of my constituents do not support it and I'm going to stand with them," said Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker told reporters on Tuesday he would not rule out a lawsuit. The mayor and members of the city council were expected to meet next week to discuss options.
"There are challenges for this site," he said. "We'll make a decision about how best to go forward."
The decision by the Prison Relocation Commission must still be approved by the full Utah State Legislature and Governor Gary Herbert. The legislature could meet in a special session as early as next week.
Keep It In Draper said it would attempt to revive its efforts to force a ballot referendum on moving the prison, despite it being rejected on technical grounds by the Utah Supreme Court. Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, said he also has some legislation for consideration to keep the prison at the Draper site.
STATEMENTS FROM POLITICAL LEADERS ON THE PRISON SITE SELECTION:
Governor Gary Herbert:
“The Prison Relocation Commission has undergone a deliberative process, and I will carefully evaluate their recommendations. Our primary focus in reforming our corrections system must be public safety and reducing recidivism among offenders. In our representative form of government, it is important for all Utahns to have a voice in this decision. Therefore, I will call the full legislature into a special session to vote on the proposal upon reviewing the final report.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Councilman James Rogers:
"We are troubled to learn that the Prison Relocation Commission has chosen Salt Lake City as their recommended location for a new Utah State Prison. Despite the vocal and constant opposition from our community and information Salt Lake City has provided that this site is unsuitable for this use, the Commission has recommended moving the prison to our City.
"By moving the prison out by the Kennecott tailings in west Salt Lake City, the State will have ignored the opposition by our residents and elected leaders.
"Salt Lake City will continue to fight today’s decision, and we look forward to working together with Salt Lake City’s legislators to pursue all options to prevent the prison being built. This State prison would be a new, additional burden, removing taxable property and potentially adding costs.
"If the prison ultimately is sited by the State in our City and our challenges are exhausted, then the State has a responsibility to address more of the City’s regional services and facilities. Providing regional facilities and services is part of serving as the Capital City. Salt Lake City has been successful by working collaboratively with our regional, state, federal, and private partners.
"The Prison Relocation Commission has indicated that it will cover all costs associated with the prison. Beyond that, we expect Salt Lake City to receive specific commitments to address more of these statewide responsibilities."
The Utah Dept. of Corrections:
The Utah Department of Corrections is pleased that, after several years of discussion, this process is continuing to move forward.
While this is a significant step today, the Prison Relocation Commission’s recommendation now goes to the full Legislature and Gov. Gary R. Herbert for a decision. Our role is to support whatever is ultimately decided.
Utah is in desperate need of a new facility that will allow the Department to better manage and rehabilitate offenders in our custody. The type of correctional facility envisioned, coupled with the Justice Reinvestment reforms now in the works, will position Utah as a model for a state-of-the-art criminal justice system.
As we’ve said all along, we believe the most important criteria is a site that works for our employees, our volunteers, inmates and their families, and other stakeholders in our criminal justice system.
We appreciate the careful, considered approach taken by the Prison Relocation Commission and its consultants to reach this decision and look forward to providing assistance where needed as this important discussion continues.
Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce President Lane Beattie:
“As the voice of business, representing over 8,000 Utah businesses, I want to commend the Prison Relocation Commission for their recommendation to relocate the prison to the I-80/7200 West Salt Lake City site. This is a complex issue. Today’s recommendation is the culmination of a thoughtful and methodical process including dozens of studies and countless hours by those involved.
“A new state-of-the-art correctional facility will support the Legislature’s criminal justice reform effort, which protect the taxpayer and reduces recidivism. It is also clear that if done wisely, there is substantial opportunity for our state’s economy in the redevelopment of the current Draper location. Every Utahn has an interest in the future of this property. As a business community, we will actively engage to ensure this generational opportunity is not squandered.
“Leadership requires making hard decisions with a strong vision for our state’s future. We encourage the entire Legislature to thoughtfully consider and support this recommendation.”
Salt Lake City Mayoral Candidate Luke Garrott:
“Shame on those members of the state legislature who continue to place the interests of the few who line their pockets at tax payer expense above those of the public. This is a bad deal for Utah and continues the disrespect of residents on Salt Lake City's west side. I support taking legal action to block the prison move and if Ralph is serious about stopping the prison, and hasn’t made a backroom deal to the contrary, we expect his immediate support of the lawsuit.”
Salt Lake City Mayoral Candidate Jackie Biskupski:
“I am extremely disappointed in the selection of Salt Lake City as the location for the new prison, and the culpability of Mayor Becker in this process is especially disappointing.
“This is a decision that will shape this city's future for generations to come. Our west side has been ignored by this administration, so it should come as no surprise that Mayor Becker would sell them out in his negotiations for a sales tax in this city.
“In addition to the lack of concern for residents of the west side, the environmental impacts and the shortage of water resources in this part of the valley should be more than reason for the commission to look elsewhere.
“As mayor, I will continue to oppose the prison relocation, and will pursue every option available to keep it from being built in the west side of Salt Lake City.”