A new proposal at the Utah Legislature that would expand the powers of the state’s new Inland Port Authority Board is not sitting well with some Salt Lake City lawmakers, who worry it could encroach on the city’s authority.
The bill, unveiled late Tuesday, would allow the port authority to create project areas outside its boundaries with written permission from the county or city where the land is located. It would also bar cities and counties from filing legal challenges against the body.
Sponsor Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, said it would kickstart what he called a “hub-and-spoke model” with potential port-controlled project areas outside the Wasatch Front. Gibson is a member of the 11-member Inland Port Board and serves as the House Majority Leader.
Lawmakers created the board last year to oversee development of a massive trade hub spanning roughly 16,000 acres in northwest Salt Lake City near the airport. After initial pushback from Salt Lake City leaders, lawmakers tweaked the bill in a special session to shrink the port’s boundaries and cap the taxes it can collect.
Gibson said the hub-and-spoke model would increase economic opportunity in rural Utah while keeping shipping costs low and reducing Wasatch Front pollution.
Rather than “bringing all the coal into Salt Lake and then disseminating it from here, why don’t we just ship it from Carbon County?” Gibson said. “That’s where it’s at, it keeps trucks [out], it minimizes pollution.”
Sen. Derek Kitchen, who was on the Salt Lake City Council when the inland port was created last year, said the bill contains some “red flags” and may jeopardize the agreement reached between the state and the city last year.
Kitchen said he had already spoken to Gibson about the bill.
“Hopefully we can find that same common ground that we achieved last year because we had established a solid relationship that I’d like to preserve,” Kitchen said.
The Salt Lake City Democrat said he was concerned about possible changes to the tax and fee structure of the inland port and a provision that would prohibit cities from challenging decisions made by the port’s board.
Gibson said he is meeting with stakeholders on the bill and is open to negotiating on portions such as a provision that would prohibit public funds to be used for legal challenges.
Salt Lake City Council Chairman Charlie Luke tweeted Wednesday afternoon that he was encouraged by "open dialogue" with Gibson.
“We have significant points of disagreement on the Inland Port bill, but Majority Leader Gibson has committed to working through our concerns,” Luke wrote.
Salt Lake City mayor Jackie Biskupski criticized the bill as a power grab targeting Salt Lake City.
“This bill effectively creates a government entity, not only unaccountable to the community, but immune from judicial scrutiny, closing the courtroom door to local communities,” Biskupski said.
The mayor added the legislation “makes clear what I knew last year, which is that any attempt to negotiate in good faith over this unprecedented bill will be met with goal shifting on the part of the State, designed to incrementally force Salt Lake City to bend to the legislature’s will under the cover of cooperation.”
KUER's Julia Ritchey contributed to this report.