SALT LAKE CITY — State officials searching for a new home for Utah's state prison decided Monday to zero in on three sites in Salt Lake City and Tooele and Utah counties after more than 100 people gathered on the steps of the Capitol to protest.
The nine members of Utah's Prison Relocation Commission voted unanimously to further consider the three sites, located in west Salt Lake City near Interstate 80 and 7200 West; south of the city of Eagle Mountain in Utah County; and in unincorporated Tooele County, directly east of the Miller Motorsports Park.
Hours earlier, residents from those areas and three others that were previously eyed by the commission gathered outside the Capitol to list their concerns, including possible water shortages and stunted economic growth.
The protesters then packed into a hearing room as members of the commission started their meeting by laying out their justification for moving the prison from 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.
The prison's hospital and facilities for education and work training need to be expanded, they said. In addition, redevelopment of the current site could generate about $1.8 billion in economic activity every year, said Rep. Brad Wilson, a Kaysville Republican and co-chair of the commission.
"We are doing what we believe and what the Legislature believes is in the best interest of our entire state," Wilson said after the meeting. "We've got to balance that with people not wanting this prison in their backyard."
Katrina Hill, a Stansbury Park resident and organizer with the group No Prison in Tooele County, said she wasn't persuaded by the argument. She said a prison in her county could exacerbate water shortages.
"We're going to continue to fight. We don't feel like it needs to be in our county," she said.
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.
The commission also plans to seek public input, including an open house in an affected community, sometime this spring.
The commission wants 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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