Utah governor to sign legislation putting new prison near Salt Lake City airport



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SALT LAKE CITY — A plan to build a new state prison west of Salt Lake City's airport will get final approval Thursday after Gov. Gary Herbert announced he'll sign legislation approving the move.

Herbert announced at his monthly televised news conference Thursday morning that he's visited the wetland-rimmed site about 3 miles west of Salt Lake City International Airport and agrees with a state commission that it's the best place to house 4,000-plus inmates.

Utah's Legislature voted by a wide margin to approve the move during a special session Wednesday evening. Herbert said he plans to sign it later Thursday.

A state commission chose the site earlier this month after Utah officials debated and studied the issue for years.

Proponents of the move say the lot will allow Utah to build a state-of-the-art facility allowing for rehabilitation and treatment programs. They also argue it will allow Utah to tear down a crowded, outdated prison in the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper, freeing up that land for business development.

In addition to the Salt Lake City site, the commission discussed moving the prison to locations in Grantsville, Eagle Mountain and Fairfield, as local officials and residents lined up to oppose the project they fear will hurt property values and choke development.

When comparing the four final sites and the current Draper site, where suburbs and high-tech companies like Adobe have moved in nearby, the Salt Lake City area is the best location, Herbert said Thursday.

"Not the perfect location, but the best to give us I think the most effective return on taxpayer dollars and to build a prison for today and tomorrow," Herbert said.

Herbert said the Salt Lake City land is miles from the nearest home but still close enough to major roads, hospitals, courts and communities where prison workers and volunteers live.

Salt Lake City opposes the move, arguing it will hurt economic development, and city officials are threatening a lawsuit to block the prison.

In a joint statement issued Wednesday night, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and the city council said the city is considering all political or legal paths to fight the prison.

"This decision demonstrates a disregard for the residents of Salt Lake City, and will continue to overburden the west side of our community with a hugely disproportionate share of the state's correctional facilities," the statement said.

"I understand their anxiety about it," Herbert said Thursday. "I would hope that in the spirit of cooperation, we can come together with the leaders of Salt Lake City."

The resolution lawmakers approved Wednesday gives Utah the go-ahead to purchase the land, which is expected to cost about $30 million, and move forward with construction.

Consultants working for the Prison Relocation Commission estimated that making the Salt Lake City land suitable for a facility that can house about 4,500 inmates would cost about $150 million, including the cost of stabilizing soft soil.

Some Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Wednesday said they oppose the site, arguing the prison would harm economic development on Salt Lake City's west side or that the state could save money by rebuilding the facility on the land in Draper.

Members of the Prison Relocation Commission estimate that redeveloping the Draper site for business use could generate from $557 million to $2.7 billion in economic activity.

If the prison isn't moved, it will cost Utah $578 million over 20 years to improve and maintain the current site, according to the commission.


Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice.

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