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Inland port authority delays $150 million vote as environmentalists threaten lawsuit

Posted at 1:48 PM, Sep 20, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Inland Port Authority delayed a critical vote on to create a new infrastructure district and spending more than $150 million in bonds, giving environmentalists a temporary win.

As protesters stood outside a skyscraper at 111 South Main, the headquarters of the port authority, Deeda Seed read an email announcing the vote had been delayed.

"I have some breaking news! The port authority has canceled its meeting," she said to cheers from the crowd.

In a statement, UIPA Executive Director Jack Hedge said the delay was "an attempt to bring this PID discussion back to merit arguments, and not further fuel the political fires."

The inland port project, a massive import-export center being built on Salt Lake City's west side, has faced scrutiny and protests since its inception in 2018. Critics of the economic development project argue that it will further harm Utah's already fragile air quality by bringing thousands of trucks and trains through the area.

Supporters argue it is being designed with cleaner technology in mind and would be an economic boon to Utah, allowing overseas good to bypass a traditional customs port and come directly into the state before being distributed around the region.

Monday's meeting was to be a vote on a public infrastructure district and the authorization of $150 million in bonds to fund a trans-loading facility, said Seed, who is an organizer with the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition.

"It’s the thing that makes it an inland port. So this is a pivotal moment in terms of the development of this polluting project," she said.

But the vote appeared to be delayed after Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake City Council Chair Amy Fowler sent a pointed letter to the port authority, questioning how the $150 million in bonds would be used, who controls and pays for the infrastructure, and a lack of public involvement. They also warned that Salt Lake City would be the ones to sign off on any conditional use permits for infrastructure improvements.

"In conclusion, the City intends to be a collaborative partner with UIPA, but this quick process to create a PID and take the first steps to issue an enormous amount of debt is troubling and ignores the potential significant consequences to Salt Lake City’s taxpayers and infrastructure system," Mayor Mendenhall and Council Chair Fowler wrote.

Seed was thrilled with the decision.

"It’s great news," she said. "I think the public has been heard today. But, of course, this battle is not over."

The inland port project itself is tied up in litigation. The Utah Supreme Court could rule soon on a lawsuit brought by then-Mayor Jackie Biskupski and continued under Mayor Mendenhall, arguing that the project is essentially a "land grab" by the state when it comes to taxing authority.

Seed also threatened a new round of litigation once construction on the project begins in earnest, citing environmental concerns.

"This is a total power play, it’s being orchestrated by legislative leaders and it’s intended to run over the interests of Salt Lake City taxpayers," she said.

Read the mayor and council chair's letter to the inland port authority here:

Read the Utah Inland Port Authority's response here: