This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
At three sometimes-rowdy public meetings, the leaders and key advisers to the Prison Relocation Commission did all of the talking, trying without much demonstrable success to convince residents that moving the prison out of Draper is right for the state, the taxpayers and even for the inmates.
Now it's the commission's turn to listen.
The panel has called its next formal meeting for June 16. That 6 p.m. gathering at the Utah Capitol marks the first, and possibly only, time the commission will allow public comment as it seeks to narrow four potential prison sites to one recommendation by Aug. 1. The plan is to allow those in attendance two to three minutes apiece to address the full commission and the seven state lawmakers on it who have a vote.
"I'm not sure there are going to be a lot of new ideas, but we certainly want to give folks an opportunity to stand up and give their piece," said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, a co-chairman of the commission. "We would like to have some real honest, respectful dialogue as we go through this."
Stevenson wasn't impressed by the boisterous crowds at recent public meetings in the cities that may house a new prison, particularly those in Grantsville and Eagle Mountain, where people shouted down speakers and booed answers they didn't like. At those meetings, people were invited to submit questions in writing and a moderator picked by the state selected which ones Stevenson and other panelists would answer. Stevenson is thinking of banning signs at the June 16 meeting in hopes of trying "to keep the decorum in place."
Audiences in previous meetings bristled with signs.
Heidi Balderree, a member of the No Prison in Eagle Mountain group, thought the information meetings were a sham. Commission members ducked tough, detailed questions, she said, and instead went on in detail about the negligible chance of a prison break, which even activists fighting against a lockup aren't arguing is a realistic threat.
"It felt like they were filibustering," Balderree said.
Although she holds out little hope that the public can sway the commission, she plans to be at the June 16 formal hearing, and she will have a detailed question or two, though she declined to divulge them because she didn't want commissioners to have time to formulate a pat answer.
Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, the other commission co-chairman, suggests people focus on details about each site and not emotion if they want to impact the process.
"I will tell you just saying, 'We don't want the prison in our community' is not an argument that helps us because everyone is saying that," he said. "A specific issue on the impact to a community, that is unique to that community is a more meaningful way to help us compare sites."
Wilson said he did learn of a few things in the public-information meetings. For instance, in Salt Lake City, he heard from a resident concerned about the sound of shotgun blasts from duck clubs hunting in the area around the potential prison site, which is west of the Salt Lake City International Airport. Wilson has asked consultants to look into that.
And at the Eagle Mountain gathering last week , he heard that major snowfalls sometimes shut down roads in nearby Fairfield, which is also on the short list. He wants information on how often that happens.
The information meetings in each of the cities served to highlight unique issues with each site.
In Salt Lake City, the concerns often are tied to the wetlands and how difficult it could be to build on land with less bedrock than the other areas.
In Tooele County, the main concern is providing enough water to the site in Grantsville, which is near the Wal-Mart Distribution Center.
And, in Utah County, transportation issues rose to the top, not just the potential snow issue in Fairfield, but also the long miles of road it would take to reach the site at the southern tip of Eagle Mountain.
Those issues are part of the detailed technical analysis led by consultant Bob Nardi. He hopes to wrap up his team's review of each site in the next month, but both he and Wilson warn that if an unexpected issue pops up, it could delay the whole process.
The goal, defined in a bill adopted during this year's legislative session, is for the commission to make a recommendation Aug. 1 and then have the Legislature vote in a special session.
"At this point," Wilson said, "I don't have a real good feel for if we can make a recommendation by August 1."