Deal struck over inland port, the largest economic development project in state history

Posted at 11:19 AM, Jul 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-16 20:24:10-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- After weeks of negotiations, a deal has been struck between Utah's governor, legislative leaders and members of the Salt Lake City Council over the inland port.

The massive project, which would create an import-export center combining road, rail and air in Salt Lake City's Northwest Quadrant, has been billed as the largest economic development project in state history with the potential to generate billions. The inland port came out of a bill pushed through in the final days of the legislative session.

At a news conference on Monday, Gov. Gary Herbert announced a special session of the Utah State Legislature would be convened on Wednesday, where a bill making modifications to the inland port authority would be introduced.

Click here to read the bill.

"I’m pleased to announce we now have some consensus that’s been reached," he said.

Members of the city council said they were largely pleased with what is being proposed. Last week, some of them met behind closed doors with legislative leaders and the governor without Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski.

She has accused state leaders of making a "land grab" by creating the inland port in the Northwest Quadrant, the site of massive development including a UPS shipping hub and an Amazon fulfillment center. The mayor also has complained about a lack of public and transparent process.

But where the mayor declined to participate, the council jumped in.

"It was beyond detrimental to Salt Lake City what that bill enabled the board to do and what we were able to negotiate is still extremely promising," Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall told FOX 13.

In a statement, Mayor Biskupski's office said she still had concerns.

"This remains a questionable bill and the Mayor’s Office and Administration are currently reviewing the actual draft legislation sent to our office—not just the talking points—to try and understand the full implications for the City," Biskupski spokesman Matthew Rojas said. "The Mayor is reaching out to community leaders to hear their concerns and questions as well. The Mayor and community’s number one question remains: why are we rushing through legislation which has vast implications, without robust and formal public input?"

Gov. Herbert said he wanted Mayor Biskupski to return to the table as talks go forward.

"It's an invitation for all to come around the table," he said.

The governor's office released a long list of details about the inland port, who gets tax money, environmental protections, boundary adjustments and more input from community and environmental groups (although they would be designated "non-voting"). More money would also be earmarked for affordable housing.

"There was a deliberate and, I think, measurable effort by all parties to work as much as we could together," House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said at the news conference.

But community and environmental activists continue to raise concerns about the process and the impact of the inland port. They complain that for a project of this size, too much is being done behind closed doors and it's being rushed.

Community group representatives with concerns about the inland port listen to a news conference announcing a deal. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

"It’s appalling and disturbing and I would say that everyone in the public should have one eyebrow raised because clearly somebody wants to rush this," said Deeda Seed of the Center for Biological Diversity.

She said air quality and neighborhoods could be negatively impacted by an inland port and would not rule out a lawsuit over it.

Council Chairwoman Mendenhall said they have worked to ensure those concerns are addressed.

"I feel good about what we’ve built in here and I especially feel good about the processes we’ve built in, the public input we’ve built in, the appeals process, the transparency we’ve built in that wasn’t there before," she said.