Opponents of possible sites for new state prison in Utah plan to protest outside Capitol

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SALT LAKE CITY — Protesters from six northern Utah locations being eyed by state leaders for a new prison are expected to gather Monday outside the Capitol before officials meet to discuss the issue.

The demonstration is the latest in a series of rallies by opposition groups formed after the Prison Relocation Commission announced the six possible sites earlier this month.

Protests have been held in Tooele County, Salt Lake City, West Jordan, Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs. The rally on Monday will be the first time the groups unite for a demonstration.

Each community has argued that a prison would hurt home values and stunt economic development, causing the same friction the prison has at its current 700-acre site in the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper.

Utah officials have decided to build a new prison, saying the current facility needs serious renovations, is too small, and occupies valuable real estate in the booming community.

Utah's Prison Relocation Commission had zeroed in on six possible sites for a new facility, but that number fell to four after one city fast-tracked a housing deal on nearby land and landowners of another site withdrew their property from consideration.

Residents of those two cities, Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain, still plan to attend Monday's protest to push for lawmakers to choose a more rural location or keep the prison where it is.

State Sen. Jerry Stevenson, a Layton Republican and co-chairman of the Prison Relocation Commission, said the panel will continue its search for a site unless the Legislature changes direction.

Despite the mounting outcry, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert remains committed to finding a new prison location, according to his spokesman Marty Carpenter.

"He's still of the opinion that there are good uses for that particular part of our state and where the prison sits right now," Carpenter said of the Draper land.

Carpenter said Hebert wants to find a spot that will have a minimal impact on the surrounding community. He wouldn't say if Herbert is open to keeping the prison in Draper, explaining the governor needs to hear the commission's recommendation first.

At its meeting, commission members are expected to discuss the locations they're scrutinizing and possibly add a few more to the list. Stevenson said they also expect to lay out how they'll take public feedback and make the case for moving the prison.

The commission plans to have a site or two to recommend to the Legislature during the upcoming legislative session that ends in mid-March. Any plan approved by the lawmakers would then go to the governor for consideration.

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