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Ravell Call/Deseret News/File

Mayor Becker: Potential SLC prison sites 'wholly inappropriate'

By Lisa Riley Roche | Posted - Dec. 2, 2014 at 6:59 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker asked the state Prison Relocation Commission to stop considering sites within the city for a new state prison, calling the two properties identified "wholly inappropriate" for the project.

And officials from West Jordan and Saratoga Springs, where the other sites on the commission's short list are located, are also opposed to relocating the Utah State Prison in their communities.

Commission members are scheduled to receive an update on the search at their meeting Wednesday but may end up talking about the need for new criteria to evaluate what is expected to become an expanded list of possible sites.

It's no longer clear the commission, which is charged with recommending a new site for the aging prison at Point of the Mountain in Draper to the 2015 Legislature, will be ready with a final pick before the session ends in mid-March.

The commission was expected to release four potential sites in October, but decided instead to slow the search process as communities began complaining. The $450 million project would free up some 700 acres of prime real estate for development in Draper.

On Monday, the Salt Lake City mayor sent a hefty report to the commission detailing concerns about sites located immediately north of the Salt Lake City International Airport and northeast of I-80 and 7200 West.

"It's not a surprise that people are trying to find information that will help them to get us to locate the prison elsewhere," the commission co-chairman and House Majority Assistant Whip-elect Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said Tuesday.

Wilson said the sites on the commission's short list may not be made public at Wednesday's meeting, set for 2 p.m. in Room 210 of the Senate Building, but will be named within the next few weeks.

"We've heard from a lot of folks," Wilson said. "We've never located a new prison of this size in the state. We understand why communities are concerned. We don't want them to be unduly concerned."

KSL News previously reported the commission was considering a site in Saratoga Springs as well as sites in Salt Lake City. The newspaper has learned there is also a site in West Jordan on the commission's short list.

Saratoga Springs officials have already publicly opposed putting the $450 million in their community and Becker's spokesman, Art Raymond, said last month that Salt Lake City is "staunchly opposed" to the city sites.

West Jordan officials declined to talk about the proposed site, reportedly in the foothills of the Oquirrh Mountains, but Bryce Haderlie, interim city manager, said in a statement there's no place there for a new prison.

"We believe any site selected should take into account existing and future impacts a state prison would have on economic development and residential growth. With these important criteria, there is no suitable site in West Jordan," Haderlie said.

He said West Jordan is "undergoing a resurgence of growth as the economy recovers," and warned "any attempts to locate the state prison within our city will be opposed by city officials, residents and members of the Legislature."

Residents of both Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain are rallying against the prison, citing a number of existing schools nearby as well as plans for a new residential development and hospital in the area.

Owen Jackson, public relations manager and economic development director for Saratoga Springs, said the rapid growth in the two Utah County communities means the site will soon be facing the same issues of encroaching development as the Draper prison.

Jill Remington Love, deputy chief of staff to the Salt Lake City mayor, said Becker's report to the commission was written after the city was contacted by the consultants hired by the state to help find a new location for the prison.

"I don't think we're trying to be on the offensive. We are responding to their requests," Love said. "We let them know that once we gave them this report, we were going to go public."

She said the administration felt it was important for the community to know what sites are under consideration for the prison so they can participate in the selection process.

"I think we appreciate this is a really tough challenge for the state to find a community that is excited to have the prison," Love said. "At the end of the process, it might be that leaving it there is the best option for the state."

The mayor's report states the city "has determined that both sites are wholly inappropriate for development of the state prison and we request neither site continue to be considered for relocation of the state prison."

The report raises concerns about freeway access to the site near 7200 West, noting a connection would have to go through a landfill site and require environmental remediation.

Also, the report states, the cost of providing water to that site is more than $2.3 million, and the price tag for a new sewage treatment plant that may be needed is estimated at nearly $270 million.

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Providing water to the site north of the airport would be almost $11 million, and bringing sewer services to the site would total more than $22 million, according to the report, which also raises a number of environmental issues with both sites.

The environmental concerns include a high risk for liquefaction in the event of a significant earthquake as well as existing wetlands designations that permit development only under "stringent terms dictated by federal law."

And, the report states, the city anticipates the same legal fight over environmental and other concerns that occurred over the construction of sports fields in the northwest part of the city close the Jordan River, delaying that project.

With the airport's east runway near one of the sites, the report says there are "serious concerns regarding existing and future operations," including prohibiting expansion and opportunities for economic development.

The report concludes that neither of the sites under consideration is "economically or physically feasible" and the city "cannot support the proposed relocation of the prison within Salt Lake City."

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Lisa Riley Roche

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