SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah lawmakers have hit the brakes on their search for a new prison site, voting Thursday to give themselves two more months to review technical details of the four sites on their shortlist.
The Prison Relocation Commission now plans to recommend a location to the Legislature by Oct. 1, after commission members have had time to review topography, environmental concerns and other elements of each site.
“We’ve got a lot of things to continue to look at, but I do believe we’re coming to the point here, we’re coming to a pinnacle. We’ll get a decision made now within a short period of time,” Layton Republican Sen. Jerry Stevenson, told reporters Thursday after a meeting of the prison commission, which he co-chairs.
The new prison would replace the current facility in the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper. Proponents of the move say the prison needs additional space and updates and is taking up valuable land as high-tech companies are moving in nearby.
Once the commission picks a site, the governor is expected to call lawmakers into a special session to approve it.
The four sites are in Salt Lake City, Grantsville, Eagle Mountain and Fairfield. The Salt Lake City site is off Interstate 80 near the airport. The Grantsville location is located near the Wal-Mart Distribution Center on state Route 138. The other two locations are in Utah County, one south of Eagle Mountain near the Lake Mountains and the other southwest of Fairfield.
In comparing the sites, the commission is looking at the trade-off between costs of building and each site’s distance from hospitals, courts, communities where its workers live, environmental impacts and other factors.
Consultants working for the commission laid out some of those costs and potential hurdles for each site on Thursday.
Building the 4,000-bed prison is expected to cost about $550 million, including utilities such as water systems and roads.
The Salt Lake City site, closest to existing facilities like hospitals, could also be the most costly to develop. Building there could cost up to $132 million, with up to $60 million of that being spent on stabilizing soft soil at the site, consultant Bob Nardi said Thursday.
Roads, utilities and site improvements would cost up to about $115 million at the Grantsville site, up to $76 million at the Eagle Mountain site and about $96 million at the Grantsville site.
Those costs don’t include the price of purchasing the land at each site.
Rep. Brad Wilson, a Republican from Kaysville and co-chair of the commission, said Thursday they’re still negotiating with the owners of each site and aren’t ready to publically disclose how much Utah might pay to buy the land.
If the prison isn’t moved, it will cost Utah $578 million over 20 years in upkeep and improvements, according to the commission.
Redeveloping the Draper site business use could generate between $557 million to about $2.7 billion in economic activity, according to estimates released by lawmakers.
Residents and local officials near all of the sites have pushed back against the prison move, arguing it will harm their communities and that state leaders haven’t spent enough time looking at whether the facility should stay where it is.
Stephanie Gricius, a spokeswoman for the group called Keep it in Draper, said she thinks there’s enough open land to rebuild the prison on its current plot, but Utah leaders have already decided on the move and the commission isn’t listening to those opposed to it.
“The entire process is frustrating,” she said. “They’re going to do whatever they want to do.”
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