Lawmakers sitting on the Prison Relocation Commission heard from representatives from the private firm Louis Berger on Wednesday, who were charged by the state to identify and evaluate potential new sites for the next Utah State Prison.
General criteria were established by lawmakers last year in HCR 8, with the more detailed requirements established by the Prison Relocation Commission. Criteria included whether the state already owned useable land, could provide adequate access for volunteers, vicinity to medical facilities and courts, availability of current infrastructure, and overall value for the taxpayer.
In all, researchers identified 26 potential sites, three in Box Elder County, seven in Salt Lake and Utah Counties, and nine in Tooele County. Ideal conditions, however, were much more localized with three of the top five locations in Salt Lake County.
Topping the list is the so called “Southwest Valley” location, between approximately 8200 S. to 10200 S and Bacchus Highway (6800 W.) to 7500 W. Thusfar, lawmakers are liking this location for its easy access to two state highways, the large amount of land, and a level landscape.
It should be noted, however, that the location does sit next to new suburbs in the southwest of the valley, and the powerful realtor and construction lobby may balk at the idea of a prison being built so close to otherwise high-potential suburban development. Despite this, land surrounding the location on the north, east, and south sides of the property are largely expected to remain undeveloped due to topography as well as Camp Williams to the North and Rio Tinto owning the land surrounding the location.
The Airport North location was next on the list and, as the name implies, the site sits directly north of the Salt Lake City International Airport. The location, researchers pointed out, is in an isolated area of the county with only some ranch houses and light industry within a mile of the location. Despite the isolation, the site itself provides a surprising amount of access to current infrastructure such as the Legacy Highway, I-215, and I-15.
But Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker has taken a hard stance against the state prison in his city, calling it “wholly inappropriate” to move the prison to either the Airport North location or a second high-ranked location in Salt Lake City, approximately two miles west of the airport at I-80 and 7200 W. Both locations, Becker noted, would come with a potentially high price tag, as both of the spots sit along the Great Salt Lake floodplain and have been identified by the city in the past as potential no-build zones in order to preserve ecologically-sensitive wetlands in the northwest portion of the valley.
Two locations in Utah County also made the top five. The first, aptly titled “Northwest Utah Valley,” sits just south of Camp Williams. The location poses few environmental concerns and is relatively close to infrastructure. This location, too, has seen increased suburban sprawl and may upset developers as a current housing development sits less than a half mile from the location. Also in Utah County was the Lake Mountains West location, which sits two miles south of Eagle Mountain. This location is the most isolated of the top five, poses little environmental constraints, and is relatively close to infrastructure without interfering with residential, commercial, and industrial activity.
The Commission voted to move forward to further evaluate the top six sites identified in the study (the sixth sits in Tooele county between Tooele and Gransville). The Commission did not take any public comment at the meeting, saying that they weren’t taking any particular action beyond narrowing their investigation to the above locations. Senator Jerry Stevenson (Republican – Layton) noted that the proposed locations are far from set in stone, and that any or all of the proposed sites may not make the cut. Stevenson also added that he didn’t want to potentially upset the public by starting a conversation on a site that was not up for final consideration.
An overview of the scores for the top 14 locations can be found here and further details about the site locations can be found here. The Commission will meet again on December 22 and the members of the Commission will formulate a plan to allow for maximum public comment.