It’s Christmas time in Tooele County. But last Friday night in Grantsville, it felt more like a hot day in August. And the Christmas spirit? Well, it could be said there were no angels bending near the earth that night.
As reported in today’s front-page story, “We don’t want no stinkin’ prison,” several hundred citizens attended a town hall meeting in Grantsville High School’s auditorium to voice their feelings about the proposed relocation of the Utah State Prison to Tooele County.
Sponsored by the “No Prison in Tooele County” group, the assembly, which was held in part to send a message to the state before today’s Prison Relocation Commission meeting at the Capitol, could be described as a verbal brawl led by a Roman coliseum crowd that was, if not hungry for blood, then eager to push their agenda forward without ambiguity.
Citizens who oppose the prison angrily shouted down proponents of the facility whenever they tried to explain their viewpoint. They also demanded that local officials take a harder public stand to prevent the prison’s possible relocation to the county. There were rallying cries “We don’t want no stinkin’ prison” and promises to end the county’s repute of being a “dumping ground.”
The evening’s meeting, unlike the more civil outdoor public protest held on Dec. 11 on Sheep Lane near Miller Motorsports Business Park, got so tense that a shaken Rep. Doug Sagers (R-Tooele) was cut off from completing his remarks, Rep. Merrill Nelson (R-Grantsville) and his wife left following a heated exchange after the meeting, and an audience-member was asked to stand down or be escorted out by security.
The proposed relocation of the prison to Tooele County has polarized citizens, with opponents having a perceived numbers advantage over proponents. What has prompted such a public outcry was the PRC’s Dec. 1 announcement that it was reviewing 500 acres at Miller Motorsports Business Park for the prison. The close proximity to Tooele Valley’s communities and businesses, and the county having been pulled from the PRC’s short list in October — and then suddenly put back on — has fueled citizens’ anger and suspicions.
But after Friday’s raucous town hall meeting, it must be said it is doubtful just how much the PRC will give weight to it all. And therein lies a concern and also some advice.
Impassioned belief that something our local or state governments have proposed is fundamentally wrong or unfair has its place. But what the PRC’s ear can’t tune out is hard data that shows a prison at the Miller Motorsports Business Park, or elsewhere in the county, isn’t a good fit and will have a negative economic impact — especially to economic development — on the county.
For citizens who don’t want to see a prison in Tooele County, and who want to be taken seriously by the PRC, credible data and civil behavior may prove more effective. Verbal attacks, and denying citizens of an opposing viewpoint an opportunity to be heard, certainly won’t.
Our editorial last week stated opposition to relocating the state prison to the Miller Motorsports Business Park. This one today declares that a state prison is not welcome at any location in Tooele County. The PRC needs to stop looking west of the Oquirrh Mountains for the answer.