Utah’s planned inland port potentially could reach to far corners of the state under a bill approved by a House committee Tuesday afternoon, despite criticisms from community advocates living near the center of the planned project.
The inland port was created in 2018 over roughly 16,000 acres in northwest Salt Lake City. The state wants to create a large commercial trading hub where planes, trains and trucks would import and export goods.
The House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee voted 6-2 to advance the bill sponsored by House Majority Leader Francis Gibson.
The legislation would create what Gibson calls a “hub-and-spoke” model for the port, where goods from rural Utah such as coal and crops could be shipped directly to their final destination.
He argues the model would reduce pollution in Salt Lake City, keep shipping costs low and would bring economic opportunity to rural parts of the state.
Gibson, R-Mapleton, sits on the inland port board and said several counties including Box Elder, Weber, Tooele, Carbon, Duchesne have already expressed interest in hosting “satellite offices” of the inland port for customs, clearance and direct shipping.
“It is the Utah Inland Port,” Gibson said. “This was always meant to be a benefit to the state of Utah.”
When it was first unveiled last week, the bill included a line that would prohibit cities from suing the inland port board or its decisions. That provision was changed Tuesday to allow a city or county’s legislative body to file legal challenges.
Several community advocates spoke against the bill, citing continued environmental concerns the inland port could have on the Wasatch Front.
“Everybody keeps talking about the economic benefit, but what about quality of life? There is more to life,” said Thea Brannon.
Westpointe Community Council chairwoman Dorothy Owen, a vocal opponent of the inland port, was suspicious about whether the hub-and-spoke model would substantially improve air quality.
“If this was such a great bill to help air pollution, the people who put this bill together would come to us and say, ‘We have heard you and this is the plan that we’ve developed, and you’re going to be really pleased with it.’ That didn’t happen,” Owen said.
Two Democratic Representatives, Carol Spackman Moss and Suzanne Harrison, voted against the bill. Moss said she was casting a “no” vote because of lingering concerns of people living near the project area.
Salt Lake City Council Chairman Charlie Luke said the city council is “very supportive” of the bill, despite concerns when it was first made public.
“We feel that we’ve been able to work through most of those things that we were concerned with” with Rep. Gibson, Luke said.