Strange news coming out of Tooele, Utah: the land across the street from Miller Motorsports Park could house the enormous new Utah State Prison. The site is one of three options selected for the new facility that could replace the state's largest prison.
Race tracks tend to have a tenuous relationship with their neighbors primarily due to the noise, but a prison may be the one thing that brings even more protesters out of the woodwork.
Utah state legislators have voted to move the Utah State Prison from its current site in Draper. While the prison was once out in the middle of nowhere like a prison should be, development has encroached upon the site to the point where the land is valuable for redevelopment, and its new neighbors aren't too happy about keeping the prison as a neighbor. Furthermore, the prison has outgrown its current site and is in need of expansion.
Unfortunately, none of the sites the Prison Relocation Commission have approved really remedy this issue. All three finalists are relatively close to developing communities around the Salt Lake City/Provo corridor. Uh, guys? You had one job. Move this complex further from the city. There are vast expanses of nowhere in Utah that would be a much better location for a prison than the ones proposed.
Speaking of which, if you own a vast expanse of Utah desert, the Prison Relocation Commission would like to hear from you before January 31. According to the Standard Examiner, the commission wants to have one or two sites to recommend to the state legislature, whose session ends in mid-March.
In the Tooele site's case, the NIMBYs have a point. Sure, inmates can't file noise complaints, but the Utah State Prison includes units from minimum security all the way up to supermax, and includes execution chambers. Past inmates include Ted Bundy and Warren Jeffs. There's something about "DO NOT PICK UP PASSENGERS" warning signs that don't seem like a good fit for an area with one of the country's nicest track facilities.
Miller Motorsports Park is on my bucket list for a reason: it's a nine-year-old, $100 million facility nestled in a valley near the mountains by Salt Lake City. I mean, the scenery as you're just driving around is worth the trip out there. It's a sizable facility that houses race team operations as well as the Ford Racing School.
The track brags about being three times the size of Disneyland on their homepage, but I'd argue that it's way more fun than a giant tourist trap.
Of course, the Disneyland comparison brings me to another point. Motorsport is a family activity. We're always asked to keep it at least sort of clean with our LeMons themes for a reason: other participants bring their significant others and kids. Parents bring their whole herd out to spectator weekends for some good, clean entertainment, and Miller is a facility built for both amateur and professional events.
Furthermore, paddocks tend to be friendly places among the relatively close motorsports community. I guess that'd be a good place to hide if you're an escaped inmate. Adding the need to worry about which strangers you're talking to is a bad fit for a community better known for sharing tools and help whenever needed.
There are some issues with the Tooele site, per Fox 13 reporter Ben Winslow. The site would need $25-30 million in infrastructure improvements to build there.
Mayor Brent Marshall from the nearby community of Grantsville is against the proposed site as well. "The majority of these inmates come from the Wasatch Front," Mayor Marshall told the residents at a protest, per ABC 4. "It is where their families reside. Let's leave it there."
The Wasatch Front refers to an area of north central Utah, with Marshall arguing that the prison needs to stay on the opposite side of Salt Lake City from the Tooele Valley when he refers to it.
Tooele, like all the other sites chosen, is a growing community due to its proximity to the largest cities in Utah. In addition to Miller, the proposed site is just east to another recreation facility, the Deseret Park Sports Complex, and a new Mid-Valley Highway is planned to go through the area. Marshall explains his opposition to ABC 4:
Nobody wants it. There is no economic benefit to the communities for a prison. There will be very few low paying jobs and there is no tax benefits there. All of the services that are required are contracted out. I just come from Gunnison and they can't contract that stuff out there and the local residents are not benefitting from that.
He vows to take legal action if the Tooele site is chosen.
While I'd argue that a prison does create jobs, Marshall is right insofar as it creates the kind of jobs that aren't as valuable to a growing suburban community. Place the prison in a more rural city with fewer prospects for economic growth and it can be a major score for jobs there.
Per The Washington Times, the goal is to find a site that is out of the path of economic development so as not to run into the same issue with the current Draper site, but not so rural that prisoners can't be easily transported to hospitals and courthouses, and not too out of the way for prison workers and volunteers.
Even Sen. Jerry Stevenson, co-chairman of the Prison Relocation Commission, admits that the sites chosen are "on the edge of economic development." I feel like that's a nice, polite, very Utahn way of glossing over the fact that they've got it wrong.
A prison across from a race track in Tooele simply doesn't fit. Many consider that area a key commercial zone for the Tooele Valley, and a prison would stifle that growth.
Listen to NIMBY Santa on this one. Keep it away from the track.
The Prison Relocation Commission has set up an email for feedback on the Utah State Prison relocation. If you would like to have your say on the matter, please send an email to PrisonRelocation@le.utah.gov.
Photo credit: AP Images