Saturday, September 27, 2014

Moving the State Prison To Weber County?

Photo Courtesy The Salt Lake Tribute

During our most recent interim legislative meeting, we received an update on the the Draper Prison relocation process.  We were told that 25 sites have been selected throughout the state for vetting based on a specific set of criteria.  Out of curiosity, I inquired if Weber County was on the "Top 25" list and I was told that it was.

So, could the State Prison end up in Weber County?  To answer this question we have to dig into the moving parts of the process.  First, lets discuss the criteria that PRADA (the agency tapped to vet the proposition of a new prison) is using to determine the best site.  The agency is ranking sites based on a score of 100 possible points with points being given for the following characteristics:

Proximity to Society and Amenities - 35 Points (the closer the prison is to services the higher the ranking)

Community Support - 15 Points

Land Quality and Environmental Impact - 15 Points

Infrastructure - 15 Points

Community Services - 10 Points

Development Costs - 10 Points

We were not versed in the exact way points would be assigned, but this helps give us an idea of the general criteria. 

Obviously, Weber County scores well on proximity to amenities.  It would score high in that category.  But, when it comes to the Community Support issue, the discussion becomes interesting.  While some local governments scoff at the idea of hosting a prison, others are contending for the prison to come to them because it is a source of stable jobs.  Thus, these communities are competing with each other in the form of economic incentives to attract the prison to their location.  In talking to those informed on this issue in Weber County, the county is not really interested in participating in this bidding war.  Combined with the ill-will expressed by most residents of Weber County regarding the idea of bringing the prison here, local leaders would be hard pressed to give away precious taxpayer money while simultaneously poking those taxpayers in the eye with a stick.  The proposition appears to be a non-starter as local leaders look to avoid displeasing the electorate.

Another area Weber County scores low on is land quality.  The only place a prison could be built without using eminent domain to acquire farm land would be in the extreme western portion of the county near the lake.  That land has a water table that is nearly above ground.  The swampy land is just too difficult to build on without incurring a tremendous expense.  The water table issue also means that our environmental impact may be larger than is desired due to its proximity to wildlife habitat. Finally, we have development costs and community services which are also impacted due to the swamp lands problem.

So, when factoring all these things together, Weber County scores pretty low on the dial.  I am told that due to this, it has not made it to the Top 10 of potential sites.  But, given our citizen's general unease with the proposition, that may just be for the better.