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Eagle Mountain • Each of the six communities on the state's list of potential prison sites have voiced their opposition, but this burgeoning Utah County community has brought its fight to the next level.
The Eagle Mountain City Council unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday during an emergency meeting that authorizes the city to spend $50,000 in taxpayer money fighting a potential prison project.
Mayor Christopher Pengra plans to use some of that money to pay a lobbyist to offer advice on the best way to convince the state's Prison Relocation Commission to look elsewhere. He also intends to spend around $5,000 supporting a community group called No Prison in Saratoga, which has fought against proposals to move the prison to one of the two cities in northwestern Utah County.
"We are willing to put our money where our mouth is. We are willing to sacrifice a little bit in our city," said Councilman Adam Bradley. "And yes, it does cost money."
Pengra described it as "a statement" showing just how committed the city is to thwart any attempt to build a prison in Eagle Mountain or anywhere in the larger Cedar Valley.
The move comes a day after neighboring Saratoga Springs appeared to find a way to nix its spot in the list of six potential prison sites. That city cut a deal with a group of investors that includes Josh Romney, the son of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, to annex about 480 acres and build a housing development instead of a prison.
Bradley said he wished his city could make a similar move. Pengra has tried to persuade Eagle Mountain developer John Walden to back away from the prison relocation process. He met with one of Walden's representatives this week and said that the two continue to disagree about whether the prison would be a benefit or hindrance to Eagle Mountain's growth.
Walden, one of the founders of Eagle Mountain, signed a proposal asking the Relocation Commission to consider his property but said he was unaware of what that document entailed. He also said he didn't know that the City Council had called an emergency meeting. He said he would meet with the mayor later this week to discuss the matter.
But he reiterated that he would consider moving the prison onto a parcel he owns about 4 miles south of city center. "I haven't made a decision either way," he said. "How can you say yes or no to anything until you see the details."
Walden's attorney is state Sen. Mark Madsen, a Republican who represents Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs. Madsen has not responded to requests for comment. Pengra said he also has been unable to get Madsen to return his messages.
City leaders allowed members of the public to voice their opinions during the unusual Wednesday meeting. More than 100 people crowded into the council chambers, while others overflowed into the building's lobby.
Residents warned that a prison would hurt the city's ability to attract businesses, may reduce property values and was an anathema to the community that they are trying to create. Also, they warned that the area was growing so fast that the potential prison site may well be surrounded by homes or businesses within a few decades. That's a major reason why the state Legislature wants to move the prison from its current location in Draper because the land underneath would be prime real estate.
The council also heard from an employee at the state prison in Draper, who lives in Eagle Mountain. Lt. Victor Smith said he would like the prison to stay where it is, though he'd be fine if it moved closer to his home and cut his commute time.
He told the community that hosting the prison would not be as bad as they envisioned. The chance of an escapee is minimal and the building wouldn't be the eyesore that people expect from the prisons they have seen on TV shows or movies.
"It is not as scary or as horrifying as they think," he said.
Councilman Tom Westmoreland said the prison may bring some jobs, but not enough to overcome the stigma of being a prison town.
"If it was really going to be an economic boom, then cities would be scrambling and bidding for the prison rather than rejecting it," he said.
State Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, observed the meeting. He said he's not sure hiring a lobbyist is necessary, since he can represent the city's view to his colleagues. Lifferth is also confident that in the end, if the prison does move, it won't move to Utah County.
The Prison Relocation Commission, made up of seven state lawmakers, will meet again on Dec. 22 and will likely narrow down the list. Beyond Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs, the commission is considering sites in West Jordan, Tooele County and two in Salt Lake City.