The 2015 Legislature will NOT pick a new prison location during its general session, which starts in six weeks, the Prison Relocation Commission decided Monday.
In a unanimous vote, the commission decided to accept new site suggestions for the $450 million prison up to Jan. 31, and will then take 60 to 90 days to reach a final site decision.
That puts the preferred site outside of the 45-day general session, which will end in mid-March.
Thus, one early goal of the commission – that the 2015 Legislature will pick a site – is out of reach.
Commissioners, who are all legislators, Monday also whittled down the six-site proposal to just three sites.
But lawmakers also said that new sites can, and may well be, considered over the next six weeks.
The three sites now still in play are:
— The lake/mountain site in northwestern Utah County.
— The 7200 West/ I-80 site out by the Kennecott Copper land.
— And the SR112 site out near the Miller Sports Park and Grantsville in Tooele County.
You can find maps of these sites at the PRC web page here.
The hearing on Capitol Hill was packed with folks who don’t want the new prison in their community. And while they were well behaved, and one point PRC co-chairman Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, told members of the audience they had to lower their protest signs or they could be kicked out of the meeting.
House Speaker-elect Greg Hughes, R-Draper, is a commission member.
And he said he supports the new prison selection schedule, which puts the decision where to move the prison outside of the 2015 general session.
The PRC walked into a public relations buzz saw several weeks ago when the final six sites were publically named.
In addition, a new UtahPolicy poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, found that most Utahns don’t want to move the prison at all, but keep it at the current Point-of-The-Mountain location.
Since the old PRADA commission, and the new PRC have both voted to move the prison and redevelop the 700 acres at the current prison site, the poll results clearly put state leaders behind the eight ball.
Now they are clearly in a public education process where they need to convince Utahns that the prison must be moved.
That was part of explanations made during the Monday meeting by co-chairman Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and member Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns.
Wilson said there are overwhelming state financial advantages to moving the prison. They include (the PRC consultants say):
— $100 million a year in new state and local tax revenue, coming in redeveloping the 700 acres of prime real estate land at the Draper site.
— $1.6 billion in overall economic activity.
— Creation of as many as 30,000 new jobs, both at the Draper site and through related economic activity.
Hutchings said some Utahns incorrectly believe that not moving the prison means no cost to the state. But that is wrong.
The 60-year-old main prison is old and antiquated. It will have to be torn down and replaced on the Draper site.
But beyond that relatively new modules, or pods, that have been built on the Draper site were done with no master plan, and there are safety and efficiency issues that must be addressed.
It will cost at least $253 million to tear down and rebuild the main prison at Draper, said Hutchings, who has been part of the prison study team for several years.
“And that whole $253 million is on the taxpayers head,” since there will be development on the 700 Draper acres to counterbalance the cost.
Looking at the protesters in the audience, Hutchings said: “You foot the entire bill. There is no revenue put towards those costs. It is not free to leave (the prison) in Draper.
“Yes, you save some dollars (from $450 million to $253 million), but there are no other benefits” that are found by redeveloping Draper’s 700 acres.
But beyond the dollars, said Wilson, Stevenson and Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley, there are human costs.
Ninety percent of all Utah inmates will, at some point, be released from prison.
Right now, Utah is not doing a very good job of keeping those people out of jail later on. In fact, two-thirds of the folks who leave prison are returned – for some amount of time — on parole or probation violations.
As part of the prison moving considerations will be attempts, both through changes in state felony and misdemeanor law and through better inmate education and rehabilitation, to cut down on that recidivism rate.
And a new, up-to-date prison will go a long way in keeping parolees out of jail again, they said.
All the communities surrounding the original six possible sites have strongly come out against having the new prison in their areas.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker has recently held two press conferences where he argued against the new prison being located in Salt Lake City.
Becker even went so far as predict that a major earthquake could cause a huge wave to roll over any prison built out by the airport – one of the six sites.
Well, that site was removed from consideration by the PRC on Monday, with the consultant saying there was wetland concerns on that land and the possibility that high jet airplane noise at certain times could harm guards being able to yell to each other during a prisoner incident.
No public comment was taken at Monday’s meeting. That will come later, PRC members said.
After Jan. 31, the commission’s consultants will conduct highly technical, in-depth studies of the final sites, and whittle them down to just one.
Then, said Stevenson, the commission will make its case why the prison should be located there – including advantages to surrounding residents and businesses that can come by having a large, safe state facility in their area.