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Canals and gravel roads crisscross the undeveloped field that the state's Prison Relocation Commission is considering west of Salt Lake City International Airport.
The sprawling site is lined with wetlands, covered with 7-foot tamarisk trees and often infested with mosquitoes. Cows and the occasional antelope graze on the brush. Nearby are industrial buildings and warehouses. Off in the distance is the Federal Aviation Administration tower and beyond that is Salt Lake City's skyline.
This is one of five sites the state is considering for a new 4,000-bed prison, and it is the subject of the first of three public meetings. The commission is holding these question-and-answer sessions in hopes of explaining why state leaders want to move the prison from Draper and why they think the sites under consideration are good candidates.
Salt Lake City residents are invited to the Promontory Building at the Utah State Fairpark on Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. to hear from the commission's co-chairmen, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, and Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, as well as representatives of the Department of Corrections and the consultants working on the prison project. An open house will be held earlier, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and the City Council released a joint statement on Monday reiterating their consistent opposition to the prison project and offering a list of concerns ranging from the environmental to the financial. While he says he wants to keep the prison out of the city, Becker did back a new law that would allow any city that gets the prison to raise sales taxes. He has long wanted to use such a local-option tax to offset the expense of providing services to commuters and tourists.
The land under consideration is near Interstate 80 and 7200 West. Consultant Bob Nardi has roughly 4,000 acres to scour for a suitable 500-acre site. So far his team has zeroed in on three separate parcels that it believes would avoid disturbing wetlands.
The land closest to the airport and north of a landfill is owned largely by Rio Tinto, the international mining conglomerate that is parent company to Kennecott Copper.
Two sites to the west split by a canal are owned by the Pedroncelli family, which operates a winery in California's Sonoma Valley.
Nardi calls these sites the "highest, driest, buildable part of the property."
If one of these parcels is selected, the state would have to construct a road to the site and bring in utilities from the industrial park near the airport.
The land would likely cost more than the sites under consideration in Tooele and Utah counties, which are more remote.
Nardi's team is analyzing soil samples and gathering information to prepare detailed cost estimates.
That work should be completed in the next six weeks and the commission is expected to recommend a site by Aug. 1. The state Legislature then will vote on that recommendation.
Other sites under consideration include two in Tooele County, near a Wal-Mart distribution center and the Miller Motorsports Park, and two in northern Utah County, at the south end of Eagle Mountain and outside the tiny town of Fairfield.
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