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The Utah Prison Relocation Commission identified six sites on Wednesday that it believes could house a new state prison and requested that each undergo a thorough review. The list includes two sites in Salt Lake City and two sites near Saratoga Springs that have already faced opposition.
But the top spot went to a piece of land in West Jordan, and that left Mayor Kim Rolfe fuming.
"There's no wisdom in that selection," said Rolfe, who didn't attend the commission meeting. "They are taking the most valuable real estate we have in our city for future development and putting in a gated community not the kind of gated community we are looking for."
The potential prison site in West Jordan is near land that has caught the attention of a major corporation. City and state economic development officials had asked the Prison Relocation Commission not to identify the site because they worried an earlier announcement could scuttle the opportunity, said state Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the Commission's co-chairman. Officials now feel it is appropriate to identify the site, emphasizing that it is one of six they are looking at.
The economic-development deal, three months in the making, remains in negotiation, according to Rolfe, who said it involved land next to the Boeing plant. Rolfe said he was confident any new prison would not be located within the boundaries of West Jordan.
Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, the incoming House speaker, suggested a list of additional criteria that consultants should review when narrowing down the list of sites for relocating the state prison now in Draper. Among those is whether such use of the land would conflict with another state interest, such as economic development.
The additional criteria, approved by the Commission, also included projected population-growth patterns. That was one of the main complaints of a group of residents from the fast-growing cities of Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain in Utah County who packed Wednesday's meeting.
Stephanie Slack was among the 50 protesters, who dressed in black and held signs. She said she could see the proposed prison site from her backyard.
"It just doesn't make sense to put it there," said the mother of two, who moved to Saratoga Springs 18 months ago as part of the city's quick expansion. "We feel the prison would shut down that growth and drive people and businesses away."
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker released an analysis earlier this week listing his objections to moving the prison north of the Salt Lake International Airport, which scored second highest on the Commission's initial analysis, or to a site near Interstate 80 and 7200 West, the fourth-ranked site.
The only site that made the initial cut that hasn't faced immediate opposition is one in Tooele County, near SR 112 and the Depot Boundary Road.
"We look forward to the opportunity to sit down with the members of the commission and review the pros and cons that exist with such a site," said Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne. "With more information will come greater clarity."
The state Legislature has decided to move the prison from its current site in Draper because of the significant costs it would take to renovate the aging facility and because the land would be a prime target for residential or commercial development.
A team of consultants identified the top six sites from a list of 26 parcels using a weighted-scoring system that included proximity to the current prison, courts and medical facilities; environmental concerns; access to utilities; costs; and community acceptance. Consultants estimate that the state needs a parcel of roughly 500 acres to house a 4,000-bed prison with room for future expansion.
The six sites identified Wednesday scored at least 70 on a scale of 100. No other site scored higher than 62.5.
"At the present time, this is the six best sites that we have," said Stevenson, who encouraged the public to identify other potential locations for the commission to review.
The panel accepted consultants' recommendation and requested that each of the six sites undergo a more detailed look. Stevenson and co-chairman, Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said it's likely that some of these six sites would be eliminated.
That could happen in a matter of weeks. The commission will meet again Dec. 22 and its leaders hope to have narrowed the list of potential sites by the start of the legislative session, which begins Jan. 26.
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The Prison Relocation Commission named six highest-scoring sites:
West Jordan • Near U-111 and 9000 South
Salt Lake City • North of Salt Lake City International Airport
Northwest Utah Valley • Near Camp Williams, Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain
Salt Lake City • Near Interstate 80 and 7200 West
Eagle Mountain • Near Lake Mountain Road and 1000 North
Tooele County • Near SR 112 and Depot Boundary Road, close to Miller Motorsports.
Source: Prison Relocation Commission