Senate takes step back but passes new prison relocation bill

Published: Tuesday, March 5 2013 7:35 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 — After weeks of back and forth on a controversial bill to create a board to oversee the possible relocation of the Utah State Prison, a new version emerged Tuesday.

And the Senate passed it 19-7 with no debate. The measure now moves to the House.

The latest iteration of SB72 removed most of the original bill along with several hasty amendments the Senate approved Monday.

Essentially, the measure retains the Prison Relocation and Development Authority lawmakers created more than a year ago to study moving the 62-year-old prison but gives it a little more power.

"This moves the process along," said Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, who served on the board and spearheaded SB72.

Gov. Gary Herbert has said there's no hurry. He said there needs to be adequate time to explore and vet all the issues and make sure it's done correctly.

Last December, the committee — made up of legislators, local government officials and business leaders — endorsed moving ahead with building a new prison and redeveloping the land. It concluded the relocation is economically feasible and redevelopment of the land could derive huge returns for the state.

The committee will now have the authority to evaluate requests for proposals for construction of a new prison and make recommendations to the Legislature. The bill spells out what the proposals should include and how the contract intends to finance the project.

Lawmakers and the governor would approve the awarding of any contracts. The 690-acre prison site also couldn't be sold without legislative approval.

The bill no longer contains a six-month timeline for accepting bids for building a new facility nor does it include specific financing options. Contractors bidding on the project would have to spell out how they would finance it. It also leaves zoning authority with Draper, the city in which the prison now resides.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, voted against the measure, saying it doesn't ensure that independent financial advisers will be part of the process.

"We may get through this and decide the costs are too high to move," he said.

The cost for moving and building a new prison is estimated at $550 million to $600 million. Jenkins said at least two-thirds of the cost for a would be covered in the savings from a modernized prison and the sale of the current property.

A new facility would save an estimated $20 million annually in operating costs, while the land would bring in as much as $140 million, Jenkins said.

Possible locations for a new prison include Tooele, Box Elder and Juab counties. The prison employs about 2,000 people and maintains about 1,600 volunteers.

Proponents of the project see the current prison site being developed as a technology center. The relocation committee estimated it would bring $20 billion in economic development to the state along with 30,000 to 40,000 jobs.

Opponents of the move say it's a costly idea that won't bring the predicted returns and will leave taxpayers holding the bag.

Also Tuesday, the House approved a resolution recognizing that the state's 20 regional correctional facilities and county jails can assist the state in addressing prisoner cost and space issues. 

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said he sponsored the resolution, in light of the potential state prison relocation and the existing partnership between the state and county jails.

"It's been beneficial for the state of Utah, it's been beneficial for the counties, and it's been beneficial for those men and women incarcerated within the system,” he said.

Currently, county jails house more than 1,700 state inmates.

Contributing: Mary Mellor

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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