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SALT LAKE CITY — Sophia White is taking her concerns about relocating the Utah State Prison to one of two sites in Salt Lake City to a higher authority.
Attending a news conference and rally Tuesday at the Utah State Fairpark to oppose relocation of the state prison to Salt Lake City, the 6-year-old held a handmade sign expressing her wishes to Santa Claus: "All I want for Christmas is no prison in my backyard."
Sophia, who came to the community event with her mother, Sarah, and 2-year-old sister, Amelia, were among Salt Lake residents, elected officials and state lawmakers who took part in the first of two planned events Tuesday to oppose the proposed relocation of the state prison.
The second event, a tactical meeting led by Mayor Ralph Becker later that evening, armed residents with the city's top 10 reasons for opposing the sites and instructions to contact members of the Prison Relocation Commission.
Two sites in Salt Lake City are under consideration by the State Prison Relocation Commission, one north of Salt Lake City International Airport and another northeast of I-80 and 7200 West.
Becker called the two Salt Lake city locations "wholly inappropriate" in a report forwarded to the Prison Relocation Commission earlier this month.
"One thing I think everyone in this room and virtually in everyone in Salt Lake City agrees on is these two sites identified for potential location of these prisons is wrong in every conceivable way," Becker said at the event Tuesday morning.
Salt Lake City Councilman Kyle LaMalfa said the city hosts the vast majority of state prison parolees, among them sex offenders leaving prison, as well as the only federal parolees center in the state.
The addition of a state prison, LaMalfa said, is "too much for our community."
Salt Lake City elected officials, among them state lawmakers, were joined by City Council members from North Salt Lake, which would likewise be affected by relocating the prison near the airport.
North Salt Lake City Councilman Conrad Jacobson said the proposed site is a half-mile from an elementary school in his community, three-quarters of a mile from three other elementary schools, and another would be 1 mile from the location.
"That's unconscionable," Jacobson said.
Salt Lake City Council Chairman Charlie Luke said the council is "unanimously opposed to relocating the state prison to either site in Salt Lake City."
Both sites are undeveloped, which means there would need to be a substantial investment in infrastructure to accommodate a facility as large as a prison.
"It will likely fall on the shoulders of Salt Lake City residents," Luke said.
One thing I think everyone in this room and virtually in everyone in Salt Lake City agrees on is these two sites identified for potential location of these prisons is wrong in every conceivable way.
–Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker
A better use for land surrounding Salt Lake City International Airport would be the development of high-skill, high-wage businesses that need the convenience of a nearby airport.
The City Council's objections also stem from the fact that 42 percent of the land in the city's boundaries are tax exempt, Luke said.
The process raises greater questions about the costs that would be borne by taxpayers statewide by moving the prison, he said
"Why not rebuild it (on site) on a smaller footprint?" Luke asked, noting that state officials appear to be no longer entertaining that concept.
Beyond that, there are environmental and land-use issues, Becker said. Preserving wetlands, an important migratory bird flyway and the potential flooding of the Great Salt Lake are key considerations.
Salt Lake City Councilman James Rogers, who represents District 1, where both proposed sites are located, said Utah and its capital city have long been held out as the "right place to be."
"For all the reasons it is the right place, Salt Lake is the wrong place for any proposal to relocate the Utah State Prison," Rogers said.
LaMalfa noted that the west side of Salt Lake City, on average, has some of the largest families statewide. This factor was apparently not considered by the commission studying where to relocate the Utah State Prison complex, he said.
"We don't want our kids growing up in the shadow of a prison fence," LaMalfa said.
The same concerns — economic roadblocks, disruption of wetlands, tax burdens, possible tourism impacts and proximity to schools — were echoed by residents in a crowd of about 100 who attended the meeting Tuesday night.
Becker sat on the edge of a table, his jacket laid aside, and fielded questions from the calm but resolute crowd.
"We're going to fight this proposal, and we're going to win," he said. "This is our community, and the state needs to respect that."
Becker also launched an online petition Tuesday opposing the Salt Lake prison sites.
Alicia Connell, a Salt Lake resident who lived near one of the sites for several years, reported she had driven to the sites Tuesday and spotted what she believes is an instant, expensive problem: power lines.
"It makes me question what due diligence did they do to determine these sites, because I really don't think these sites should have ended up on the list in the first place," Connell said. "I think we will win this. I think there's no way they can build on these sites."
Some suggested trying to emulate what Saratoga Springs and West Jordan have done, getting their cities presumably removed from the selection list as the property owners pulled their bids from consideration. Becker said he has been in contact with the owners of the two Salt Lake properties but so far had nothing to report.
Several members of the City Council and area legislators were also on hand to offer support. Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, urged the crowd to be civil as they contact legislators, spellcheck emails, and focus their message on simply "defending Salt Lake" rather than suggesting other locations for the prison.
The next Prison Relocation Commission meeting is scheduled for Monday, when the commission could further winnow down the number of possible sites from four to two. State lawmakers will make the final decision.
Becker urged those planning to attend the meeting, which will not include a public hearing, to make their presence known without being disruptive.
Contributing: Devon Dolan