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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A Midway fish hatchery renovation has hooked a spot near the top of the list of building projects the state's building board is recommending for consideration by Utah lawmakers.
The $5 million hatchery would produce 225,000 pounds of fish to be released into state reservoirs and could help reduce incidences of whirling disease, an insidious fungus that causes fish to swim in circles.
The disease helped bump the hatchery ahead of other projects, including a school for the deaf and blind in Salt Lake County and a new St. George courthouse.
At $48 million digital learning center for Utah Valley State College got top billing, followed by a $10 million new applied technology college in Vernal. The fish hatchery is third and a 192-bed, $20 million expansion of the prison in Gunnison is fourth.
But some wonder about the wisdom of ranking fish ahead of classrooms and prison beds.
"We always have a hard time. All of the projects were deserving," Building Board Chairman Larry Jardine said. "But we know the money can't pay for everything."
The board uses a complex scoring system to weigh each project's space needs with alternative funding sources and efficiency ratings to rank each request for state money.
Year after year, the same projects appear, with most slowly working their way upward toward funding. The board's recommendations are then forwarded to lawmakers for approval during the annual 45-day general legislative session.
In 2006 lawmakers will probably set aside about $100 million from the state budget for building projects, not including $50 million already earmarked for the Capitol renovation.
That would mean only four of the 23 recommended projects would get built.
Lawmakers can shuffle the rankings as they see fit, but historically follow the board's recommendations.
"It will really end up being a function of how the budget works out," said Ken Nye, deputy director of the State Division of Facilities Construction and Management. "The Legislature makes its own decisions on what it wants to fund."
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)