SALT LAKE CITY — Seven days after state leaders launched Operation Rio Grande, an unfamiliar calm had indeed swept over Salt Lake City's most infamous neighborhood, known for its open-air drug use, drug dealing and on-street camping.
But at what cost?
One week later, state officials still hadn't reported that price tag.
House Speaker Greg Hughes said Monday that wasn't because of lack of transparency, but rather officials from the many jurisdictions involved in the three-phase effort were still fleshing out the specifics.
"I can't give you a set number right now, but that exercise is happening," Hughes said, adding that it's not as if state leaders are funding the operation with a blank check.
"We wouldn't have started it if we didn't know that it's something that we can do," the speaker said.
Nudged for at least a rough idea, Hughes pegged Operation Rio Grande's statewide cost at "tens of millions," with the expectation that federal leaders will later this year approve Utah's request for Medicaid waivers, which could make $70 million in federal funding available to the state, matched with $30 million from Utah.
Hughes said he wasn't trying to be secretive, but "I'm just saying it is what it is — we're still working it out."
The budget should "crystallize" after a meeting planned for Wednesday, Hughes said, when budget staff from the state, city and county are expected to meet for a second time and "flesh out" the numbers.
"I think at the end of the week I will have a better idea of the budget than I have right now," he said, telling the Deseret News to follow up with him Thursday or Friday.
From what he knows so far, Hughes said the cost isn't "insurmountable" or "so outlandish that we're fooling ourselves," it just requires some "harmonizing" between agency budgets to ensure there aren't any duplications of efforts or funding.
"We're not intimidated by it; we know it's a tough nut to crack, but there's a lot of political will and a lot of urgency to this, so we'll get there," Hughes said. "Politics is the art of the possible. There is no 'no' in any of this. There's only how we get to 'yes.'"
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the "point person" on the state-led effort, could not be reached for comment on Monday, lacking cell service while watching the solar eclipse from a remote area in Idaho, according to his office.
But Gov. Gary Herbert returned a request for a phone interview, also saying the cost has yet to be hashed out.
"How much that's going to be has yet to be determined and probably is somewhat speculative, anyway," Herbert said, but the state will do "whatever it takes" to eliminate the crime and give treatment to those who need it and want it.
"By golly, I think the state at least is willing to step up and say, 'We will put whatever resources are necessary to solve our fair share of it,'" Herbert said. "I expect the city and county will do likewise. It's going to be a combined effort."
He said, of course, there will be a cost to "taking back the streets" and "it's going to cost us, I'm sure, millions of dollars — but there's a cost to doing nothing."
"Whether it's the quality of life, the loss of real property, the loss of use of our public park or the loss and the carnage to our fellow human beings," Herbert said.
In the long term, Herbert said Operation Rio Grande will save the state money by "being proactive and helping these people transition back to being productive members of society."
"The expense is going to cost us a bunch upfront, but the rewards will come later — and the rewards, I think, will, in fact, offset the cost of the taxpayer and what we need to do now," Herbert added.
Herbert and Hughes together toured the Rio Grande neighborhood Monday to see the operation's progress.
Since Aug. 14, an average of 150 officers from multiple agencies have patrolled the area around the clock, saying they are targeting criminal activity in the area. In the first four days, they made about 282 arrests. Of those, about 105 have been released from the jail, according to the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office.
Marissa Villasenor Cote, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Public Safety, did not return a request for updated arrest numbers on Monday.
The governor's office said Monday night that cumulative statistics for the first week of the operation would be released Tuesday afternoon. Officials will also provide information on phase two of operation.
Though many people struggling with addiction were stilling waiting for treatment Monday — with 200 new treatment beds expected to become available in the coming months — Herbert and Hughes were optimistic about Operation Rio Grande's success as they toured the neighborhood.
"The difference is, in fact, stark. It's black and white," Herbert said.
Hughes said he spoke with a 30-year police veteran who said he's never seen those streets so calm.
"There's much to be happy about," Hughes said. "The biggest win for us is some of the most hardened felons and criminals and those that were the highest volume drug traffickers are now and jail. And you can see a benefit from that right away."
Some have criticized the effort, saying it's pushed the chaos into other neighborhoods, but Hughes said police are watching the "ripple effect" carefully and monitoring the issue as it evolves, knowing that it would cause drug dealers to find a new base.
"Had we done nothing, this was moving already," Hughes pointed out. "This was already traveling, growing, coming to a neighborhood near you."