SALT LAKE CITY — The acting Fairfield mayor said it doesn't matter if the Legislature's Prison Relocation Commission has thrown out the rankings that put the tiny Utah County town at the top of the list of five sites to relocate the state prison.
"If we let our guard down, I honestly think they'll think we don't care and they'll say, 'Let's put it in Fairfield,'" Peter Lawrence said Tuesday. "If you wanted to offend the least amount of people, you would put it in Fairfield."
With a population of fewer than 50 families and a city government that meets in an old school house and uses a trailer as an office, Lawrence said he worries that Fairfield won't be able to put up a strong enough fight to keep the prison out.
"When you're talking about less than 120 people, you have a very small voice," said Lawrence, a 78-year-old retired business executive born in England. "We're at a huge disadvantage."
None of the cities that made the commission's shortlist in February want the $550 million facility that would replace the aging Utah State Prison at Point of the Mountain in Draper.
Besides Fairfield, located west of Utah Lake, the commission is also considering a nearby site in Eagle Mountain; a site in Salt Lake City, west of the Salt Lake City International Airport; and two sites located near Grantsville in Tooele County.
New debate about the sites has been sparked by a report to the commission dated March 27 that provides more details about how the sites were chosen, including a ranking that put Fairfield in the No. 1 spot with a score of 76 out of a possible 100.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker joined in Tuesday, reiterating his opposition to the prison being moved to Salt Lake City and citing the report as showing the city may no longer be the commission's top pick.
"That is certainly somewhat encouraging news. But we know that decision rests with the Legislature and the governor, ultimately," he said.
Becker said as recently as last week he voiced his opposition to one of the commission chairmen.
"As far as I know nothing's changed," the Salt Lake City mayor said. "We're still on the list and I hope we get off it."
Eagle Mountain Mayor Chris Pengra posted on his blog last Friday that the growing Utah County community faces a "significant and detrimental impact" if the prison is moved to his town or to nearby Fairfield.
"While my role dictates that I care for the needs of the residents of Eagle Mountain, our neighbors in Fairfield are no less important," Pengra said. "We will stand shoulder to shoulder with Fairfield and oppose this very frustrating process for their well-being, as well as our own."
Bob Nardi, the consultant hired by the state to help find a new location for the prison, said nothing in the report "contradicts" what was discussed at the commission's February meeting where the shortlist was decided.
"It's not new. All it is is documentation and more information about what was presented on Feb. 27," Nardi said. "I'm a little bit disappointed in myself that maybe the report wasn't as clear as it needed to be."
Nardi said the rankings are no longer being taken into account because the sites are now going to be judged on the results of new studies underway to determine utility needs as well as topographic, geological, environmental and other concerns.
"That's where we're at. We've got five sites. Everything else has been eliminated and these five sites are starting equally," Nardi said. "There's no ranking of the five. There isn't one better than the other."
Lawrence said Fairfield, which didn't make the commission's first shortlist last October, will have plenty of problems accommodating a 4,000-bed prison, starting with limited well water and a sewage system that relies on septic tanks.
Then there's the two-lane highway into the community that's been closed because of drifting snow. Some days, Lawrence said, as many as a half-dozen dead deer are scattered along the Cedar Valley access route.
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the commission's co-chairman, said there are issues expected to turn up in the latest review with all of the sites, including the lack of infrastructure close to Fairfield.
"The bottom line to all this is, short of the Legislature making a change, or the governor, there's probably going to be a prison built in the state of Utah," Stevenson said.
And with five sites identified, each now has a 20 percent chance of being selected, he said. "I think we're just going to settle down and see where science and geology tells us is the best place to go," along with utility and land costs.
Stevenson said the final round of site analysis should be completed in about 60 days. The 2015 Legislature approved a bill, HB454, calling on the commission to recommend a site by Aug. 1.
Gov. Gary Herbert is expected to call lawmakers into a special session of the Legislature to consider the recommendation. The bill also creates a new Prison Development Commission to oversee the relocation of the Draper facility.
Supporters of relocating the prison, including House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, want to free up what is seen as some 700 acres of prime real estate at Point of the Mountain for development.
Contributing: Dennis Romboy
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