- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah is closing in on a site for a new state prison, but environmentalists are worried that the choice could harm migratory birds and the Great Salt Lake.

The state reviewed multiple sites west of Salt Lake City International Airport before construction managers narrowed their focus to about 600 acres near the lake, The Salt Lake Tribune (https://bit.ly/2an9AtA ) reported.

The state Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert decided last fall to move the prison and have launched studies of the soil, cultural artifacts and air quality in two locations.

The state announced Friday that it is rejecting a site owned Rio Tinto, the parent company of Kennecott Copper Mine. The spot was just north of an old landfill and state officials worried that building there could destabilize the landfill.

“It is an older landfill,” said Marilee Richins, interim deputy director of the state Department of Administrative Services. “It is the unknown of what potential issues we might run into there when we disrupt dirt.”

Although officials said they were concerned about the environmental impact of the landfill, the environmentalist organization Friends of the Great Salt Lake preferred that location to the one the state is now focusing on. The western plot is owned by descendants of the Gillmor family.

“Really? This one?” said Executive Director Lynn de Freitas. “The west parcel is the most environmentally sensitive.”

The organization would like to see more distance between the prison and a migratory bird sanctuary and wetlands. De Freitas has praised the state for working with environmental groups but said Friday that Friends of the Great Salt Lake was blindsided by the decision to reject the eastern land parcel.

Salt Lake City, however, supports building the prison closer to the lake.

“This is the best of the available options for the city because it moves it farthest away (from residents) and allows the greatest amount of potential economic development,” said city spokesman Matthew Rojas.

City leaders and state lawmakers envision a 4,000-bed prison complex with roads and utilities that could service an industrial park. First, however, the state must complete a thorough environmental review of the site.

Richins said negotiations are underway now and the state hopes to purchase a land parcel later this year. Once the state owns the land and has completed architectural plans, construction is expected to take an additional four years.

The current timeline calls for the prison to start housing inmates in 2020.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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