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A state lawmaker says Gov. Gary Herbert told him the prison should be relocated near Salt Lake City International Airport.
Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, released details of a 10-minute conversation he had with Herbert this week at an open house the governor held with legislators.
"He indicated that he thought the wisest location was at the west airport site," Lifferth wrote on his blog. "His Chief of Staff, Mike Mower ... also gave a number of reasons why, in his opinion, that the prison should be moved to the west airport site."
Mower is actually Herbert's deputy chief of staff and has served as the governor's point person on the potential prison move.
Seven lawmakers make up the state Prison Relocation Commission, which is searching for a place to build the penitentiary, which is now in Draper. So far, the commission has focused on three sites: near the airport; south of Eagle Mountain, in Utah County; and in Tooele County near the Miller Motorsports Park. Local officials in each of those areas oppose a prison move and the commission is seeking alternative locations.
The airport site is near Interstate 80 and 7200 West on land owned by Rio Tinto, the parent company of the Kennecott Copper mine. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker strongly opposes moving the prison into the city and has vowed to fight any effort to do so.
Lifferth, who posted pictures of his conversation with the governor, also said Herbert specifically opposed the Eagle Mountain site.
Herbert spokesman Marty Carpenter said the governor had "casual conversations with a number of legislators at his annual reception" and he wasn't trying to further policy discussions.
"Representative Lifferth misunderstood the nature of the governor's comments," Carpenter said. "Like many Utahns, the governor is thinking through the benefits and drawbacks of the potential new sites for the prison, but he is not taking a position at this time as to which site he believes is best."
Rather, the governor "looks forward to reviewing the decision" made by the commission and funded by the Legislature.
The commission will hold its next meeting Friday, when it will discuss the sites under consideration and may add one or two locations around Five Mile Pass in Tooele County. The commission isn't expected to make a final recommendation for a few months.