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Fairfield • A broad expanse of land whipped by wind and kept trim by a herd of cattle could one day hold the Utah State Prison.
Not too far in the distance are the 40 or so families who live in this tiny northern Utah community in the Cedar Valley. The biggest businesses in the Fairfield area are a fireworks warehouse and a company that sells small two-seater planes at the West Desert Airpark. The tourist draw is Camp Floyd, where the U.S. Army stationed troops during the Utah War in 1858.
Other than that, there's an abundance of flat, largely barren land.
Why would the state consider bringing a 4,000-bed penitentiary here, and what are the challenges? And what about another potential location at the southern edge of Eagle Mountain, one of Utah's fastest-growing cities?
The state's Prison Relocation Commission (PRC) is holding a public information meeting Tuesday evening at the Frontier Middle School in Eagle Mountain to delve into those questions and answer the concerns of upset residents. The open house starts at 4 p.m. and a question-and-answer period begins at 7 p.m.
The commission has held two previous meetings in Salt Lake City and Grantsville, where two other sites are under consideration. Both of those faced strong opposition from residents.
It won't be any different in Eagle Mountain, where a boisterous opposition group backed by locally elected officials promises to show just how strong the sentiment is to keep the prison out of Utah County.
The commission, led by state Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, and Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, says it will take public comment into consideration, but only so much. Commissioners plan to make a decision that weighs the realities of building on a site and the cost. They have until Aug. 1 to give their recommendation to the Utah Legislature.
In Fairfield, the commission is working with the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility, based in Salt Lake County. That sewage-treatment plant bought 2,700 acres around Fairfield in the 1990s with the idea it could dump solid waste there if the need arises. That hasn't happened yet, so parting with 500 acres for the prison seemed like a good business move.
Ironically, one of the problems with this parcel is that Fairfield is not capable of helping the city with water or sewage needs, something acting Mayor Peter Lawrence has stressed as he makes his case that the prison should be built elsewhere.
Bob Nardi, a consultant for the state, is looking into the costs of digging a well and building a small, on-site wastewater-treatment plant.
What Nardi likes about the spot is that the land is located near State Route 73, which cuts down on the drive time. It is 40 minutes away from the current prison in Draper.
"Isolation is important," he said. "We don't want to impair people's use of their own land."
In Fairfield and in Eagle Mountain, residents worry a prison would hurt property values and scare away other businesses. Stevenson said these communities often don't consider that a prison brings stable jobs, and some of those Department of Corrections employees would eventually move into the neighborhood.
The Eagle Mountain site is owned by developer John Walden, who founded the city and has become a controversial figure as he has continued to build on his vast land holdings.
The site is about 4 miles from residential communities, but homebuilders have plans to continue rapid expansion.
Stevenson argues that a prison could help Eagle Mountain grow.
"You put an employment base here," he said, "and some of those lots will sell."
The No Prison in Eagle Mountain group, which has more than 3,000 members on Facebook, argues moving the prison there will repeat what happened in Draper, where development swallowed what was once a rural area, and eventually the state will decide to build a new prison even farther away.
Stevenson doesn't believe that is likely.
The prison in Draper is just off of Interstate 15, near residential and commercial property, while the Eagle Mountain site is zoned to be industrial. Nardi said the town's sewage-treatment plant, which would sit between the prison and the residential area of the city, acts as a "buffer."
The commission is also considering land west of Salt Lake City International Airport and another parcel behind the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Grantsville.
Final prison-relocation information meeting
When • Tuesday, open house 4-7 p.m., Q&A, 7-9 p.m.
Where • Frontier Middle School, 1427 Mid Valley Road, Eagle Mountain