Utah leaders weigh 25 sites for new state prison

This Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 photo shows the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. Utah lawmakers are advancing a plan to relocate the state prison in southwest Salt Lake County. The Utah State Prison occupies about 700 acres in Draper where tech companies such as eBay and Microsoft have opened offices. Gov. Gary Herbert has called on lawmakers to fund the relocation so the corridor can develop as a technology hub. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A state commission has come up with 25 northern Utah locations that could be the site of a new state prison.

Lawmakers and corrections officials met Wednesday to finalize the criteria for a new prison site but did not list the individual sites under consideration. The potential sites are in Salt Lake, Utah, Tooele, Weber, Davis and Box Elder counties, according to MGT of America, a consulting firm assisting the commission.

Consultant Brad Sassatelli said the group is open to additional locations that aren’t on the list yet. “We’re out there beating the bushes, building up our contacts and our relationships to try to find sites that weren’t in our inventory, so we can offer up different locations, and, most importantly, sites that may be easier to develop in better-suited locations,” he said.

Once officials narrow the list of locations, the Prison Relocation Commission will recommend a site to lawmakers during the next legislative session in January, Sassatelli said.

Identifying possible sites is a big step forward for the prison move, something officials have been considering for more than a decade. After creating multiple panels to study the issue in recent years, Utah legislators decided to move the facility from its current spot in the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper.

Proponents of the move say the 700-acre site needs additional space and updates and takes up valuable land in a budding tech corridor where companies such as Adobe and eBay have established offices.

Critics have questioned how much the move will cost taxpayers and how much more space is needed.

Moving the prison is expected to cost about $1 billion, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1rx0Dzj).

Potential sites for a new prison will make it onto a shortlist if they align with key criteria, Sassatelli said. The new prison must be close to an urban area with access to courts, highways and hospitals. Other factors the commission will consider include local community support, impacts on the environment and how neighboring land is used.

Once the list is narrowed, Sassatelli said he expects the commission will spend December coming up with finalists.

Some members on the commission worried Wednesday about factoring local community support into their decision. “People actually resist even schools, and we’re talking about a prison,” Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper said.

Utah Department of Corrections Executive Director Rollin Cook said state officials will need to persuade communities that building a prison nearby is a good thing.

“Prisons are not always everyone’s favorite building to have located in their community, but a lot can be done by our agency and by those who are involved in educating the public,” he said. “Corrections facilities are good partners. They do a lot of good work in communities.”

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