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Eagle Mountain mayor wants to avoid contentious debate at prison open house

Current Utah State Prison location Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in Draper Utah. Eagle Mountain Mayor Chris Pengra said he wants to avoid a contentious debate when the Legislature's Prison Relocation Commission holds its third and final open house in the Utah Co
Current Utah State Prison location Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in Draper Utah. Eagle Mountain Mayor Chris Pengra said he wants to avoid a contentious debate when the Legislature's Prison Relocation Commission holds its third and final open house in the Utah County community Tuesday.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

EAGLE MOUNTAIN — Eagle Mountain Mayor Chris Pengra said he wants to avoid a contentious debate when the Legislature's Prison Relocation Commission holds its third and final open house in the Utah County community Tuesday.

"I will be communicating my frustrations, but I hope to do so in a respectful way," Pengra said Monday. "I'm focusing on communicating what I think is necessary to be productive. I don't see a benefit to, I guess, the personal attacks."

Last week, Grantsville Mayor Brent Marshall fired up a crowd of Tooele County residents at the commission's open house in Grantsville, saying the site of a new prison should not be "decided in a back room with a wink and a nod."

Marshall also said Gunnison Mayor Bruce Blackham, who has participated in the Q-and-A sessions at the open houses to talk about the state prison in Gunnison, should "feel free" to head home and take the proposed prison with him.

That tone did not sit will with Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the co-chairman of the commission expected to recommend a new site for the Utah State Prison at Point of the Mountain in Draper by the end of August.

"I just thought it was very tasteless the way it was handled," Stevenson said, adding that the Grantsville mayor's comments incited a handful of "rabble-rousers" in the audience who repeatedly cheered and jeered the commission.

Pengra said that's not what he expects to see in Eagle Mountain.

"I sure hope not. I don't think that's who we are," the mayor said.

Like the previous open houses in Salt Lake City and Grantsville, Tuesday's open house at Frontier Middle School, 1427 Mid Valley Road in Eagle Mountain, will last from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., with a moderated two-hour question and answer period at the end.

The commission is considering four locations for the $550 million project. They are west of the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City; near the Wal-Mart distribution center in Grantsville; in Eagle Mountain; and in nearby Fairfield, Utah County.

In his comments at the beginning of the question and answer session, Pengra said he has decided to focus on pushing the commission to reconsider keeping the prison in Draper.

"Candidly, my position from the beginning was it didn't make sense to move the prison from Draper. However, I didn't want to insert myself into state politics," the Eagle Mountain mayor said.

But Pengra said he's had little success trying to make the commission understand why Eagle Mountain is a bad fit for a new prison, despite putting together a 71-page analysis of the impact.

He said the city has "had many conversations about how to engage the (commission) because up to this point, dialogue has been completely absent," including at the open houses.

Questions posed to the commission's panel must be submitted in writing at the open house and are asked by a moderator. The first opportunity for the public to directly address the commission will be a June 16 public hearing at the state Capitol.

"At this point, my obligation is to speak very clearly about what I think is the right way forward for the state," he said, calling for money to be spent on prison reforms at the Draper site rather than on relocation.

But Stevenson said that's just a "fallback position" for communities that don't want a prison.

"That's the button they can push — 'Leave it there and we don't have to deal with it,'" Stevenson said, even though that means losing out on what some say are the economic benefits of developing the nearly 700-acre site in Draper.

He said there are problems with building a new prison on the site before tearing down the many existing prison buildings, including a power corridor that makes it "almost an impossibility."

The commission may hold another meeting to rank the remaining sites before the public hearing, Stevenson said. A consultant is currently conducting an in-depth study of each site to determine whether there are environmental or other problems.

The final decision about where a new prison will be built is up to the Legislature. Gov. Gary Herbert has said he will call lawmakers into special session to consider the commission's recommendation.

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