This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Hold the wrecking ball.
The Utah State Prison in Draper will need to serve us just a bit longer, maybe years longer, now that state officials have determined their preferred site for a replacement near the Great Salt Lake may not only be marshy, unstable and a preferred home for migratory birds and other wildlife.
It also may be a place where the air is awash in the kind of toxic dust that gets kicked up when humans have distorted the environment and left what was once a large lake bed open to the winds.
But it's not just the prison population inmates, guards, staff, volunteers who are at risk from the toxic dust. It's all of the Salt Lake Valley.
And the reason that dust is a problem is not just the fact that a rising and falling lake is nearby. It's the result of decades of diversions that have left the lake declining to near record lows.
Thus does the state's eagerness to relocate the prison to foster unbridled development come into conflict with its long-standing habit of drinking up way too much water to foster unbridled development.
With luck, the realization that the prison site may have been made unusable by long-standing diversions of water that should have flowed to the Great Salt Lake through the Bear, Weber and Jordan rivers will cause state officials to be skeptical about future plans to divert even more water from its natural flow.
The Utah Legislature, salivating at the prospect of turning the existing prison site into a boomtown of taxpaying homes and/or businesses, quickly determined that a new, more modern prison should be built west of the Salt Lake City International Airport.
Lawmakers made that call in the full knowledge that choosing a swamp as the site for the $550 million prison was likely to make the project more expensive and take longer to build. But the location is close to the many support services a prison requires, might pull other development into the area and was mainly opposed by Salt Lake City Democrats, who have no say in any such matters.
Now comes some of the due diligence that should have happened a year ago, including more study of how natural and human-deposited toxins once trapped in the mud of the lake will be free to infect the lungs of people in the prison and beyond.
If the new prison becomes even more expensive, or can't be built on the Legislature's preferred site at all, many people may finally be aware of the downside of our fooling with nature.