GRANTSVILLE — More than 100 Tooele County residents chanted, "Keep the joint at the Point," at a rally Thursday evening across the street from where state officials were holding an open house about the benefits of a new state prison.
Land near this city's Wal-Mart distribution center is one of four sites still being considered by the Legislature's Prison Relocation Commission to build a replacement for the Utah State Prison at Point of the Mountain in Draper.
Wearing red in protest, the crowd at the "Food Truck Roundup and No Prison Rally" in Grantsville City Park slurped snow cones and waved signs opposing a 4,000-bed facility in their community.
"We moved out in the middle of nowhere to be in the country," said Michele Calhoun, who for 15 years has lived in a neighborhood just off Mack Canyon Road, an unpaved street that borders the proposed prison site.
Calhoun, holding a sign that read, "No Prison in My Backyard," said Tooele County already has "plenty of dumping ground stuff" and shouldn't have to accept a new state prison.
A second site in Tooele County that was on the commission's shortlist, next to the Miller Motorsports Park between Tooele and Grantsville, was withdrawn by the property owners, the Larry H. Miller family.
The other sites still in the running for the $550 million project are west of Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake County, and in Eagle Mountain and Fairfield in Utah County.
Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, told the crowd at the rally the prison should stay in Salt Lake County, preferably at its nearly 700-acre Point of the Mountain site that's being eyed by real estate developers.
"It's nothing against Salt Lake County," Nelson said to cheers.
He said Salt Lake County is where the most serious crimes occur and it makes sense to keep the prison "close to the problem."
Nelson said he is having the Legislature's fiscal analyst's office review the costs and economic impacts of the prison being circulated by the commission, including at the open house held at Grantsville High School from 4-9 p.m.
That's something Jack Allred, an employee of Morton Salt and a native of Grantsville, also wants to know. Allred and his wife, Debbie, toured the booths set up to describe what a new prison would bring to a community.
"I just can't see how that could be — all those jobs, all those revenues," Jack Allred said, shaking his head.
But Alex Alexander, who lives in Tooele but works at the Wal-Mart distribution center, one of the area's largest employers, showed up at the open house to find out about prison employment.
Alexander said he's already told his boss that "if it's a better opportunity, I'm gone."
Originally from Las Vegas, Alexander said area residents like small-town life and "look at a prison like it's something bad."
Bob Nardi, a consultant hired by the state to study the prison sites, said he heard a lot of misinformation from area residents at the open house, especially about whether there was enough water available.
"The reason this site is being looked at in Grantsville is it's large, it's out of the way, and it has water rights," Nardi said.
That means the prison would not need to tap into the community's water system, he said.
Nardi spent much of the open house explaining how the prison could help Grantsville upgrade not only its water supply but also its sewer system as part of the project, he said.
"This is a project for the next generation, kids graduating high school needing jobs and wanting to stay in the place where they grew up," Nardi said, describing the open house visitors as a "calm, interested audience."
That didn't describe the crowd that filled the high school auditorium for a two-hour question and answer session that ended the open house, who were very vocal about their opposition to the prison move.
They repeatedly cheered and jeered responses from the panel, which included the commission's co-chairman even after Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall urged residents to be respectful.
"Be scared," one man yelled after a question submitted by someone in the audience to the panel that dealt with the possibility of a lawsuit should Grantsville be selected for the prison.
Many of the questions dealt with keeping the prison in Draper, and commission co-chairman Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, was interrupted several times as he attempted to explain why that was an "impractical" option.
The commission has already held a similar event in Salt Lake City and is scheduled to hold one in Eagle Mountain from 4-9 p.m. Tuesday at the Frontier Middle School.
A single public hearing on moving the prison is planned for June 16 at the state Capitol. The commission is expected to recommend a new location for the prison this summer.
Gov. Gary Herbert has said he will call lawmakers into special session to vote on the recommended site.
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