- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah lawmakers on Wednesday voted to build a new state prison near Salt Lake City’s airport.

The Republican-dominated state House and Senate met in a special legislative session to approve the measure, which residents, local officials and many Democratic lawmakers opposed.

The House voted 62-12 Wednesday evening to approve the measure, with five Republicans joining seven Democrats in opposition. A short while later, Utah’s Senate voted 21-7 in favor, sending it to Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk for approval.

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 3 miles west of Salt Lake City International Airport will allow Utah to build a state-of-the-art facility and tear down a crowded, aging prison in the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper, freeing up that land for business development.

Salt Lake City opposes the move, and city officials are threatening a lawsuit to block the prison.

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.

Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, unsuccessfully tried to co-opt the proposal and instead get lawmakers to vote on a competing resolution that calls for the state to look at rebuilding the 60-year-old prison in Draper.

He argued it costs less to keep the prison where it is, and the long-term cost of operating a prison in Draper is comparable to the cost savings lawmakers say they’ll get in Salt Lake City.

Kaysville Republican Rep. Brad Wilson, co-chair of the prison commission, disputed Cox’s numbers and argued that by redeveloping the land in relatively affluent Draper, the state can afford the $550 million cost of building a state-of-the-art prison with space to treat and rehabilitate inmates.

Several Democratic lawmakers representing Salt Lake City spoke against the move, saying it will hamper economic development there.

Democratic Rep. Sandra Hollins represents the west Salt Lake City district where the prison would go and said the decision is based on economic class, not restorative criminal justice.

“It’s about keeping some communities pristine while placing services that you do not want on another side on one side of town or on one community,” Hollins said.

In Hollins’ district, 21 percent of households receive food stamps or welfare, according to state reports analyzing legislative districts. The prison currently sits in the district of GOP House Speaker Greg Hughes. That district has only 3 percent of households receiving food stamps or welfare.

Redeveloping the Draper site for business use could generate from $557 million to $2.7 billion in economic activity, according to estimates released by lawmakers.

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.

Stephanie Gricius with Keep It in Draper said members of her citizen group plan to hold lawmakers and the governor accountable for their votes on the prison when they’re up for re-election next year.

Gricius said it’s possible her group may try to pass a 2016 ballot initiative to keep the prison in Draper, but she didn’t know Wednesday what their next step would be to try to block the move.

“We can be a thorn in their side the entire time if we want to,” she said.

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

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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