SALT LAKE CITY -- This could be the biggest economic development project since Brigham Young entered the Salt Lake Valley.
A Senate committee on Friday signed off on a bill to create an inland port authority over objections by Salt Lake City leaders, who fear it tramples on their powers.
At its core, the debate is over thousands of acres of land called the Northwest Quadrant. It's a land mass west of the Salt Lake City International Airport roughly the size of Draper. Salt Lake City is developing it, but the state also wants to step in to create an "inland port," where road, rail and air meet for a massive regional import/export center.
"If it matures as we envision it, it will be the largest economic development project we have ever brought to the state of Utah," said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton.
The Northwest Quadrant is also the site of a lot of industrial developments, including a UPS hub and a massive Amazon fulfillment center. The area could make billions in economic development over the years.
"There is very little area left in this county that isn’t developed and a good majority of it in Salt Lake City is in the Northwest Quadrant," said Salt Lake City Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall. "So an incredible amount of potential of contiguously undeveloped parcels there. It’s not a surprise the state wants to consider all of their options in the beginning drafts of this bill when they’re looking for land to incorporate."
Sen. Stevenson's Senate Bill 234 to create a port authority to deal with the inland trade port. However, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and other city leaders spoke against it raising concerns about who's on that authority, how much power they have, the kind of control they have over land and taxing authority.
"We have great concern about that when we’re talking 30 percent of our land and how it gets developed," she said.
Sen. Stevenson insisted it is not a state land grab.
"No, and the reason it isn’t it’s just too big of a project. We need a community effort to get this thing done. The community is larger than just a city or a county or the state," he said.
Salt Lake City raised concerns the state was stepping on local control. They said they did not oppose an inland port, but wanted greater input for taxpayers of the city. Land owners told the Senate committee they wanted all sides to come together.
"It’s going to require collaboration across the spectrum," said John Birkenshaw of Rio Tinto.
Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said he believed it was "all about control." Sen. David Buxton, R-Roy, said it was bigger than Salt Lake City.
"Not only is it going to affect Salt Lake City, it’s going to affect the whole state of Utah. It’s going to affect Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, all those states around us that you can get to in one day driving in a semi. That’s bigger than local control," he said.
The bill passed unanimously out of the committee and heads to the full Senate floor.