legislators bemoan slow Utah prison relocation progress

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 2:30 PM

Antone Clark, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY — Some Utah lawmakers want to speed up the process of considering whether it is viable to relocate the state prison.

During an appropriations committee on Tuesday, several lawmakers voiced concerns the Prison Relocation and Development Authority board is stuck in low gear, when it needs to be accelerating the process, so it can provide the Legislature with data and options they need for the 2014 legislative session.

In late October, authority board members voted unanimously to pull a request for proposal from a state website until more information can be included. Another key factor in the delay was Gov. Gary Herbert’s reluctance to sign the RFP. Authority board members hope to have a prison master plan ready for legislative review for the next session, which begins in January.

“I thought the legislation was pretty clear. I thought an RFP should have been out by now. ... I’m concerned that the window of opportunity is nearly shut,” Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, said upon hearing the latest update on the authority’s work.

He was not alone.

Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said construction costs and interest rates are on the rise, making the potential viability of relocating the prison more difficult with each delay. Adams also echoed concerns that expansion of the Gunnison prison seems an obvious first step to addressing any potential prison system expansion plan.

“I don’t know how you put together an accurate master plan. Until you do that RFP you don’t have the data you need. I believe you’re missing an opportunity to get that information,” Adams said

Another short-term issue playing into the discussion is the possible expansion of county jails to house more state inmates. Both the Davis County and Weber County commissions have passed resolutions in support of looking at possibly expanding jails in both counties, to house more state inmates.

A consultant hired by the relocation authority hopes to have numbers for the group’s December meeting on how the possible expansion of county facilities would impact the state system.

Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, found himself fending off some lawmaker concerns about the speed of the process. He said talk of expanding Gunnison is premature until a master plan is in place. He also agreed on the need to issue an RFP in a timely fashion.

“I’m sensing some disappointment from some in this room that we are not further along. All parties are taking this very seriously, but it is going a little slower than we anticipated.”

Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley, is glad the process is going slow enough to consider all factors, beyond mere costs.

“There are all kinds of windows. We talk about one might be closing, but lots of others are opening we need to look at. Change motivates change … Mistakes cost money. I appreciate your taking a breath and taking a step back,” Mayne said.

One key vision of the relocation effort is that building a new state prison somewhere else would free the Draper site to be commercially developed at high revenue gain for the state.

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