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Move the Utah State Prison, relocation authority tells lawmakers

Published: Thursday, Sept. 3 2015 7:51 p.m. MDT

The state's Prison Relocation and Development Authority voted Wednesday to recommend to the Legislature that the Utah State Prison in Draper be moved to a site yet to be determined. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) The state's Prison Relocation and Development Authority voted Wednesday to recommend to the Legislature that the Utah State Prison in Draper be moved to a site yet to be determined. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The state's Prison Relocation and Development Authority voted Wednesday to recommend to the Legislature that the Utah State Prison in Draper be moved to a site yet to be determined.

The vote followed nearly three years of studying whether relocating the aging facility from Point of Mountain to free up the prime real estate for development made financial sense.

Only Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams voted against the recommendations, which ask lawmakers this session to approve not only the move but also the purchase of a site for a new prison and funding for the first phase of construction.

The recommendations also call for lawmakers to approve the expansion of the state prison in Gunnison, as well as provide additional funds so county jails can house more inmates.

No possible sites for a new facility were proposed at the meeting, which lasted just over an hour, but authority chairman Lane Summerhays said several landowners have already come forward.

Summerhays declined after the meeting to be more specific, other than to say three of the four sites offered for the prison were in Salt Lake County and the other in Utah County.

"I'm confident that we will be able to find a site that is just very appropriate and solve concerns, and make this move really clear in everybody's eyes," he told a reporter.

His recommendations cited the preliminary results released last month of a study by MGT of America, a Texas-based consulting company hired by the authority, that calculated the net cost of moving the prison would be $102.2 million.

That cost took into account the $471.1 million price tag for relocating the prison, the value of the nearly 700 acres and the maintenance costs at the decades-old facility over the next 20 years.

The study also found that the annual economic benefit of developing the prison property would be $1.8 billion, with state and local taxes adding up to $95 million each year.

"If we move it, we need to be careful where we move it," Summerhays told the authority, recommending that a new site be accessible to employees, volunteers and the families of inmates.

But Summerhays made it clear he believes that can be done. He said it was up to lawmakers to decide whether to replace the prison as soon as 2018 or phase it out over several more years, options proposed by the consultant.

"If you turn us loose," Summerhays pledged, "we'll make it happen."

Legislators who serve on the authority welcomed his recommendations.

"I'm really, really happy with where we've gotten to," Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said.

McAdams cast the sole vote against the recommendations, saying they did not take into account the need to look at criminal justice system reforms that could reduce the number of inmates.

The authority later agreed to continue to study such reforms, as well as consider how to ensure both Draper and Salt Lake County have a role in making decisions about the relocation and development.

Last year, the authority was ready to issue a request for bids on the project that stalled when Gov. Gary Herbert declined to sign it. Legislative leaders have since expressed frustration over the delay.

In his State of the State speech, Herbert said while it's "worth having" a discussion about moving the prison, "it must be done in the larger context of reforming our criminal justice system as a whole."

The governor's communications director, Marty Carpenter, said in a statement Wednesday that Herbert "is pleased to see the committee agrees, and he looks forward to reviewing the recommendation."

Herbert included funding for the Gunnison prison expansion in his $13.3 billion budget.

Summerhays said after the meeting he didn't see Wednesday's action as accelerating the process.

"I don't think we have speeded up. I think we've stayed on that slower track, if you will, of accumulating information from our consultant," he said. "The numbers overwhelmingly support moving the prison."

McAdams said after the meeting there's still a lot that has to be decided.

"This is not the last step in the prison relocation process," he said. "What was decided today was to forward a list of recommendations to the Legislature, who will continue to deliberate and make a decision."

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