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Officials Choose Salt Lake City for New Prison Site, Despite Challenges

Andrea Smardon
Utah Prison Relocation Commission members Rollin Cook, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Corrections, Rep. Eric Hutchings, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, and Rep. Brad Wilson

After years of debate, Utah officials recommended Tuesday that a new state prison should be built near the airport in Salt Lake City.

The site selected by the Utah Prison Relocation Commission is 3 miles west of the Salt Lake City airport near Interstate 80.  Consultants estimate that it’s the most expensive and complex to develop of the four locations considered by the commission, because of soft soil that would have to be stabilized. But House Commission Chair Brad Wilson says the site also has the greatest long-term potential benefits. He says it would be the least expensive to operate because of its proximity to medical facilities, courts, and other services.

“We have to make a long-term decision about the cost of ownership of this facility, and that’s a big factor, but also the factors related to just the ability to get volunteers and employees,” Wilson says. “The further away we move from the population centers, the more difficult it is for us to hire those good men and women that work there.”

Supporters say the move creates economic development opportunities. The prison is estimated to cost about 550 million dollars to build. It would replace the existing facility in Draper, which commissioners say is outdated and inadequate. Salt Lake City mayor Ralph Becker opposes the move, arguing it would threaten wetlands near Great Salt Lake. City councilmember James Rogers says the commission’s decision is politically charged.

“All the elected Democrats for the state of Utah are from Salt Lake City, except for one in Price. It’s big brother coming down on the little brother,” Rogers says. “The state of Utah has continually dumped on the west side of Salt Lake City. We have four of the five state halfway houses on the west side of Salt Lake City. And now we have one more project which is going to be moved to the West side of Salt Lake City, which is the state penitentiary.”

The site recommendation by the state Prison Relocation Commission must be considered by the state Legislature. Governor Gary Herbert is expected to call lawmakers into a special session this year to consider the move.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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