On Thursday, lawmakers on the Prison Relocation Commission received an update from the consulting firms MGT of America and Louis Berger about the four remaining location sites under consideration.
The presentation began with a lengthy discussion as to why construction on the open land at the current Draper location was not a practical way to replace the aging prison.
Brad Sassatelli, of MGT of America, noted that a Draper construction site would be a logistical nightmare and would place staff, volunteers, and inmates at risk. The reason for this, Sassatelli noted, was that every single tool that entered the construction zone would be a potential weapon if put in the wrong hands, and that a simultaneous construction/demolition site would extend the overall construction time and decrease the potential efficiencies that can be gained by constructing from whole cloth.
Sassatelli then added that the problems with constructing at the Draper site would be “almost insurmountable.”
The updated report provided a deeper look at the criteria lawmakers have been asking for over the past year, including in-depth geological surveys, initial environmental studies, access to infrastructure, ease of access for volunteers and employees, and the economic impact of each location.
And it is the economic impact that may ultimately place the 5,000 acre Salt Lake City location north of I-80 at 7200 West at the top of the committees’ recommendation list.
Lawmakers were extremely interested in the finding that the Salt Lake location could have the highest potential positive impact on the local and state economy while minimizing potential expenses.
Robert Nardi, with the Louis Berger Group, explained that the owners of the land west of the airport seemed to be eager to sell, partially because it has sat, undeveloped for years. In addition, Nardi implied that land owners in that area may be willing to shoulder some of the costs associated with building roads, power lines, and water lines to the empty section of the capitol city, as those improvements make private development much more enticing for private buyers to build.
It was noted that the Salt Lake location did pose one major logistical problem: the soil is loose and wet – though these problems can be reduced, doing so will cost the state an additional $60 million and add 18 months of preparation time. Nardi suggested that this additional time could be used to finish design of the prison, reducing the additional cost.
Cost of correcting the soil aside, Nardi was confident that the flood plain that caused the wet soil in the first place won’t pose major construction or safety issues.
Though lawmakers heard from the other locations, it was clear that the idea of an economic gain, combined with the relative ease of moving employees and volunteers, put the Salt Lake location on the top of many lists.
The commission was originally expected to have a final recommendation by August 1st. However, due to several outstanding questions, the group opted to give themselves an additional two months to come up with a final recommendation, though Representative Francis Gibson (Republican – Mapleton) noted that a recommendation may come sooner.