One of the things touted at the Prison Relocation Commission Q&A last Thursday is how the prison has been good for Gunnison.
I’ve talked to Gunnison Mayor Bruce Blackham, and the town’s former mayor, Lori Nay. On the surface, it looks like they’ve made lemonade out of lemons. Mayor Blackham will tell you, as he’s told me, that none of their fears from 30 years ago materialized. He will say that the prison has been a good neighbor to them.
But if you dig deeper, as I did, both mayors will admit they have had major challenges. Challenges that resonate to us here in our pretty little city of Grantsville.
For example, their prison — not even near the size of Draper’s — has taxed their water supply so much that they’ve recently had to drill for more wells to the tune of millions of taxpayer dollars. And that is after years of negotiations with the Utah Department of Corrections.
We know that throwing money at water issues won’t solve the problem. We live in the desert. When water is gone, it’s gone. We don’t want to turn away tax-paying industries and other economic opportunities because the prison has tied up all our extra available water. We don’t want to be stuck holding the bag just to sustain a prison’s never-ending demand on water.
We just recently upgraded our sewer system here in Grantsville. It is a costly and painstaking process. In 1997, seven years after the prison moved into Gunnison, the prison overloaded their sewer system. The prison exceeded what the city was initially told.
Make no mistake, a prison is a taker that will keep on taking.
Mayor Blackham has said that hosting a prison has some economic benefits — the visitors drive through town, buy goodies and gas at the Maverik and drive home. But both mayors acknowledge they never really saw benefits for local business where it really matters.
If Gunnison is content with their prison, then good for them. But Grantsville is no Gunnison!
We live in a vibrant community that is accessible on Interstate 80. That is how we have gotten industries like the Walmart Distribution Center, Cabela’s Warehouse and Airgas. If we put the prison on top of our hill, taking up our water, where will other companies go? Why should we sacrifice 500 acres of our scant taxable land to a prison that does not pay taxes?
Since the prison will not pay taxes, it will not help pay for our schools, it will not help pay to maintain our roads, and it will not help pay for all these things that preserve our families’ quality of life.
We will grant that a prison has its place in society. It gives inmates a chance to right their wrongs. It gives them a chance to reenter society hopefully a better person than they started.
But a prison has no place in Tooele County. And, you bet, a prison has no place in Grantsville. That is why we are fighting it, that is why we held a rally opposing the prison on May 28, and that is why we are saying no to a prison now and in the future!
Allen is a Grantsville resident and co-founder of No Prison in Tooele County.