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If Erica Groneman could script upcoming public meetings about moving the Utah State Prison, she would include a scene where the government's relocation team, confronted by community activists, would have an epiphany and reverse course. They would agree that building a lockup in fast-growing Utah County would depress property values and scare away potential businesses and, in the end, the prison would remain in Draper.
If state Sen. Jerry Stevenson could script the meetings, he would craft a moment where residents would see through the angry opposition from people like Groneman and catch a new vision, where a modern prison would bring needed services and jobs to a sparsely populated area and the state as a whole would benefit.
But neither of those scenarios is going to happen.
Stevenson, the chairman of the Prison Relocation Commission, won't attend any of the three meetings, the first of which will take place May 20 in Salt Lake City, and neither will any of the other state lawmakers who plan to pick a new prison site later this summer. Instead, the state's technical team will staff the sessions with the assignment of answering questions not taking public comment.
Stevenson sees no reason to "get skewered by the public" while a technical analysis is underway on the five sites under consideration.
Those sites include one near the airport in Salt Lake City, two in northern Utah County (one in Eagle Mountain and one in nearby Fairfield) and two in Tooele County (one near the Miller Motorsports Park and one in Grantsville by the Wal-Mart Distribution Center).
It's possible that some of those sites will be dropped because of the cost and lack of water and power.
"Why have a hearing on a site that is not buildable?" he said.
But that begs the question why the commission has set meetings in Salt Lake, Grantsville and Eagle Mountain. Essentially, the commission wants to try to convince the public to accept a new prison.
"A lot of what is going on now is fable. We want people to at least know what the reality is," Stevenson said. "At this point in time we will certainly listen and take the feedback we get. But the focus of what we are doing is to get information out to the public."
The technical team, which will include relocation consultants and members of the Utah Department of Corrections, will hold an open house where residents can look at drawings and reports about the relocation process and then they'll take public questions.
"I think the PRC's propaganda team will be on overdrive trying to sell us the prison, rather than listening to what our concerns are," Groneman said. "They are going to feed us information that we don't need to know or already know."
If she is so skeptical about the worth of the meetings, why does she plan to attend?
"If you don't go then it sends a statement that you don't care and we care very much. Everyone needs to be there," said Groneman, who lives in Saratoga Springs and wants to keep the prison out of Utah County. "Unfortunately we have to play their game and that is what we are going to do."
Groneman's main argument is a prison would stunt the residential growth, property values and economic development of the state's fastest-growing area.
But the commission believes the five sites are far enough away from major population areas. The decision will largely come down to a financial decision, Stevenson says.
That's not stopping a group of Tooele County residents from holding an anti-prison rally before the meeting on May 28.
Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall plans to be among the protesters.
Marshall says state leaders should take public sentiment into account and he thinks they are making a mistake by not attending the public meetings. "They are shielding themselves," he said. "I think they should have to attend the public hearings in the communities where they are trying to put the prison. I think they owe the citizens that right."
Stevenson said there will be a public hearing before the full commission as soon as June, though that will likely take place at the state Capitol.
Prison relocation public information meetings
• Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 4–9 p.m.
Promontory Building, Utah State Fairpark
155 N. 1000 West
Salt Lake City
• Thursday, May 28, 2015, 4–9 p.m.
Grantsville High School
155 E. Cherry St.
• Tuesday, June 2, 2015, 4–9 p.m.
Frontier Middle School
1427 Mid Valley Road