SALT LAKE CITY — The Legislature's Prison Relocation Commission wasn't ready Wednesday to reveal the four top sites for a new facility to replace the aging Utah State Prison at Point of the Mountain.
"Some may have some curiosity about the site selection process, and you're going to be disappointed," commission co-chairman Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told the packed audience attending the meeting.
Wilson confirmed the commission has narrowed the number of sites being considered for the $450 million project to four, but "that's all you're going to hear today unfortunately," he said.
The sites are not being revealed yet because the communities involved are still being notified, Wilson said, but he promised a formal announcement would be made within a week.
"We're still in that process, and we feel it is appropriate that we work a little bit more closely with these communities before we go more public with where these sites are," he said.
Both Wilson and the commission's other co-chairman, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, said the Deseret News was correct in reporting last week that three of the sites are in Salt Lake County and the fourth is in Utah County, in Saratoga Springs.
Saratoga Springs officials told the newspaper they aren't interested in the project.
"It doesn't fit," Owen Jackson, manager of public relations and economic development for the fast-growing residential community, said last week.
Wilson said after the meeting that he plans to sit down with Saratoga Springs leaders next week.
"There's a lot probably of energy around this issue that's not quite justified yet," the representative said. "A lot of people don't understand the pros," including thousands of jobs.
The project will be one of the largest ever for the state. Moving the existing prison will free up some 700 acres of prime real estate for development in an emerging high-tech corridor.
Two sites in Tooele County were initially on the commission's shortlist but were taken off because of the distance involved for corrections department employees and volunteers, as well as inmates' families.
Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall, who attended the commission meeting hoping to hear a final list of sites, said his Tooele County community doesn't want the prison either.
"I'm ecstatic if we're not on the list," Marshall said after the meeting. "We have not been in favor of the prison coming there. The (Grantsville City) Council is adamantly opposed to this."
The mayor said he was concerned because Wilson said during the meeting that narrowing the possible sites to four doesn't preclude additional sites from making the list, including sites that have already been rejected.
"We would wish the Legislature would be a little more proactive in getting some information disseminated," Marshall said, so Grantsville knew where it stood. "There are still some things too secret to tell."
Rollin Cook, executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections, said after the meeting that communities need to hear the positives associated with a prison, including that crime rates will drop because of a larger law enforcement presence.
"I think with a little bit of education and information, and being there and being willing to answer tough questions, I think they'll be far more willing and understand that we can be a good neighbor," Cook said.
He said proximity for the corrections department workforce and volunteers, as well as to medical facilities and the court system, are key factors in relocating the Draper prison.
"Obviously, from my standpoint operationally, that's one of the most important things," Cook said, noting he was comfortable with the four sites. "We're dealing with people. We're not dealing with buildings."
Although the site selection talk was limited at the commission meeting, financing was discussed. Wilson said the prison should be replaced in the next five to seven years — or less.
He said little time was spent discussing a privately run prison or using a private finance company. The state should have the bonding capacity to borrow money at a lower rate, Wilson said.
A financing plan should be ready for the 2015 Legislature that begins meeting in late January, Wilson said, along with a recommendation where the prison should be moved.
Commission members did hear an updated presentation on recommendations for reducing recidivism being developed by the state with the help of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Ron Gordon, executive director of the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, provided a list of proposals that included reclassifying simple drug possession offenses from a felony to a class A misdemeanor.
A final report on the recommendations, intended to reduce costs by finding ways to shorten prison stays while making inmates less likely to return, is expected next month.
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