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Makeup of board to oversee prison relocation a topic of controversy

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21 2013 4:55 p.m. MST

A committee created by the 2011 Legislature recommended last month to relocate the state prison to "allow private development of the land on which the state prison is presently located."

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The makeup of a board that would oversee relocation of the Utah State Prison and redevelopment of the land where it now sits has become a sticking point for state lawmakers.

Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, pulled SB72 from the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Thursday to wrestle over who should sit on the proposed Prison Land Management Authority. He said he hopes to have an amended bill ready for a hearing Monday.

"Everybody wants a piece," Jenkins said.

Meantime, the House Republican caucus talked at length Thursday about the potential for moving the 62-year-old prison and the organization of the authority board.

"Senator Jenkins and I are doing everything we can to keep this process as apolitical as possible, and to keep it in a way that we are doing what's in the best interest of the entire state and not what's in the best interest of any one district, county or entity," said Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, the House sponsor of the bill.

The bill currently calls for a 10-member committee, including representatives from the state Department of Corrections, the Governor's Office of Economic Development, and two each from the real estate and construction industries, all appointed by the governor. The House and Senate would appoint one member each, while Draper would provide two.

Democrats want a seat on the board, as does at least one rural county that currently houses inmates for the prison.

Jenkins said he and Wilson are considering creating two subcommittees under the land management authority — one to oversee relocating and building a new prison, and the other to manage development of the current 690-acre prison property.

Jenkins also said the board probably needs a Salt Lake County representative because that's where the prison resides and there's a possibility the new prison could be built in the county as well.

Several residents complained at a committee meeting Tuesday that the massive project would allow land developers to line their pockets and leave taxpayers holding the bag.

In the House GOP caucus, Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, said there needs to be an independent evaluation of the land.

"We need to get information to the public because we have a skeptical public," Draxler said. "Instead of consulting developers or real estate agents, I think we also need to consult independent appraisers."

Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden proposed leasing the land instead of selling it.

"This is some very fine property that's hard to duplicate, surrounded by some wonderful infrastructure," he said. "What's the downside if we were to lease the property with a 100-year lease?"

But House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, whose district includes the prison, said by allowing the state to manage the land, the surrounding cities would lose zoning rights.

Lawmakers were told Tuesday a new prison, estimated to cost as much as $600 million, would be more efficient and less costly to run. Jenkins said redeveloping the property into a technology center could bring a $25 billion boost to the state's economy and eventually 30,000 to 40,000 jobs.

"First, we have an incredible opportunity to do better by the people who are in this facility — better programming, a better facility and reducing recidivism," Wilson said. "Second, we have an incredible opportunity to attract employers in that part of the state to create billions and billions in additional revenue."

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com, mmellor@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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