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Utah, Salt Lake City lawmakers strike peace deal over Inland Port Authority Board

A photo of a inland port sign.
Brian Albers

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, have compromised on a bill they say will provide more stability for the inland port going forward. It passed its first committee hearing on a 9-1 vote Wednesday morning.

The port is a proposed logistics center near the Salt Lake City airport. Parts of the port are also in Magna and West Valley City. The Legislature passed a law in 2021 to create a bank to fund satellite ports throughout the state.

Under HB 443, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Magna and West Valley City would lose their voting seats on the Inland Port Authority Board. The new board would be smaller and made up of people with business experience. A majority would be appointed by legislative leadership and a minority would be appointed by the governor.

“It really is a business and needs to be run like a business,” Schultz said. “That's really important to help the board move forward in a productive manner. While the hub is located in the northwest quadrant of Salt Lake, it is a statewide mission. You've heard about spokes in other areas across the state that want to participate, and so this would still allow for that to happen.”

In return, Salt Lake City would get more property tax revenue from the project and more control over how the Inland Port Authority spends its portion of that revenue. Currently, the city hands over 75% of that property tax to the port. Under this proposal, the city and the Inland Port Authority would enter into a 25-year contract that would require the city to hand over just 65% the first year. That percentage would decrease over time.

“The conditions that we've agreed upon between the state and the city will provide a tremendous economic benefit that will benefit Salt Lake City's successful recovery from the pandemic,” said Mayor Mendenhall. “This agreement will also … give Salt Lake City the ability to ensure that these better environmental standards and practices for the development of the inland port happen.”

More stability?

Under the legislation, 40% of the tax revenue the port receives would have to go to mitigate the environmental impacts of the port. In addition, 40% would be required to be spent on other mitigation projects, like a traffic study or environmental impact study, and 20% would go to the port’s economic development.

Mendenhall said she would like that contract to require the Salt Lake City Council to decide what projects that tax revenue is spent on in an open, public process.

Schultz and Mendenhall also said the contract would provide stability for both the Inland Port Authority and Salt Lake City.

“Every year, I think, since we've created the inland port, there's been a bill up here that's moved things around,” Schultz said. “This contract is meant to protect both the city's rights and the inland port’s rights and make sure that those things can't continue to come up here and be changed via statute.”

The city sued the state over the project in 2019. The lawsuit is currently awaiting a decision from the Utah Supreme Court. Both Schultz and Mendenhall said that lawsuit should play out and would not be disrupted by this legislation.

Not everyone wins

While the legislation satisfied Salt Lake City and lawmakers, it received backlash from the public during its committee hearing.

Kory Holdaway, a lobbyist for Magna, said the town should also receive some of the port’s property tax revenue and be included on the board.

“The impacts on the citizens of Magna are every bit as important, in fact, probably more so because the communities are so close to the inland port,” he said. “Magna has been supportive of the inland port from its outset. … As it is now, that support will go away.”

But Schultz argued that since only a small portion of the port is in Magna and West Valley, it doesn’t make sense for them to have a large role in its operations.

Some of Salt Lake City’s west side residents and other environmental activists said this legislation takes away too much local control and would lead to worse air quality.

“[The new board] doesn't even pretend to value expertise on the environment or preventing the harms that the port development likely brings: the destruction of wildlife habitat, air pollution from thousands of trucks and locomotives,” said Poplar Grove resident Carolyn Erickson.

“Increased air pollution and dust storms, which will carry toxins from the Great Salt Lake, will sicken us, especially those of us who live close by,” Erickson said. “Are we really to trust this UIPA [Utah Inland Port Authority] Board or to have our health and welfare at heart?”

The bill is now headed to the House floor.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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