Residents push back against planned prison move, though some say the facility must be improved



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SALT LAKE CITY — People pushing back against a plan to move the Utah State Prison said during a public meeting Tuesday that lawmakers haven't heeded their concerns, though some spoke in favor of the effort to improve the aging facility.

Lawmakers say the decision to move the prison has already been made and they're trying to pick one of four possible sites for its new home by Aug. 1.

Many people who live near those sites say it should stay in Draper and that officials never gave that idea serious consideration.

"The two-way communication has been too little, too late," said Heidi Balderree of Saratoga Springs with the group Keep it in Draper.

State lawmakers, though, said they've worked to keep the process open to the public.

"We need new facilities, and they need to be somewhere other than Draper," said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, a Republican from Layton.

More than 200 people came to the meeting at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday, many of whom live near the four sites on the list in Salt Lake City, Grantsville, Eagle Mountain and Fairfield.

Sarah Rupp-Abeysekera of Grantsville says the possible site there is across the street from her home. If a 700-acre facility prison goes there it would block her view of the stars, and she'd have to spend thousands of dollars to drill her well deeper because it would use up more of the available water.

Salt Lake City resident Virginia Curtis Lee said the move is motivated by developers who want to build high-tech businesses and in-demand homes on the land at the Draper location, and Tuesday's meeting won't change much.

"I don't think there is anything anyone in the public can say that will change their mind," said Lee.

The Salt Lake City Council, meanwhile, halted from a meeting to drive to the Capitol and speak against the possible Salt Lake location Tuesday.

But others said the Draper facility unfairly subjects prisoners to unsafe conditions, such as snow coming into vents. A new prison could provide better programs to help prisoners rehabilitate and stay out of custody.

"The whole state will benefit from getting it out of Draper and taking a look at what the problems are," said former inmate Kenny O'Rourke.

Tuesday's forum came after a series of public meetings in late May and early June that drew hundreds of people who questioned the choice to move the prison. They said the proposed locations in Utah County don't have access to roads, hospitals and public transportation. Others said the Salt Lake City proposed site, though with easy access to transportation near the airport, would be unfairly close to low-income and immigrant communities.

There were five sites on the list originally. But one was cut from the list after the family of sports and auto magnate Larry H. Miller withdrew an offer to sell to the state a 900-acre plot east of the Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele County.

One of sites under consideration is in Salt Lake City, off Interstate 80 near the airport. Another is in Grantsville near the Wal-Mart Distribution Center on state Route 138. The other two are in Utah County, one south of Eagle Mountain in the Lake Mountains West area and the other southwest of Fairfield near Cedar Valley South.

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