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Utah Supreme Court rules against Salt Lake City on inland port

Posted at 4:32 PM, Jun 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-30 00:29:45-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court issued a ruling Wednesday against Salt Lake City over the controversial inland port project.

The state's top court ruled unanimously against the city, which had accused the state of a "land grab" when it snapped up roughly a third of the city for the project. In a unanimous opinion issued Wednesday, the Court said the state did nothing unconstitutional.

"We affirm the dismissal of the City‘s challenges to the zoning provisions. The City has failed to establish that the zoning provisions‘ disparate treatment of three municipalities is not rationally related to a legitimate legislative objective," Associate Chief Justice Thomas Lee wrote.

The inland port, which has been billed as the largest economic development project in state history, has been mired in controversy since its creation. The project is billed as an import-export center to get goods quickly through customs for distribution across the West by road, rail and air.

Former Mayor Jackie Biskupski sued the state and Mayor Erin Mendenhall continued the litigation. Environmentalists and local leaders have protested the project, raising concerns about air quality, the Great Salt Lake and overall quality of life.

But the Court did not immediately rule on whether Salt Lake City was robbed of tax revenue. Instead, the justices asked for additional briefing from lawyers in August. Still, Mayor Mendenhall and the Salt Lake City Council called the decision "deeply disturbing."

“The Legislature should not be allowed to unilaterally change municipal land uses it does not agree with or redirect tax revenues that belong to cities. The Utah Supreme Court’s decision is deeply disappointing. The purpose of Salt Lake City’s litigation was to emphasize the unique authority of cities in Utah to directly respond to the needs of local constituents. By allowing the state to usurp municipal land use authority, the Utah Supreme Court has potentially created serious consequences for the local authority of all 249 Utah cities and towns," they said in a statement.

Members of the Utah State Legislature were pleased with the decision.

"Today's ruling reaffirms the legitimate statewide purpose of the inland port and allows us to continue to work toward bringing the benefits of the port to the people of Utah. We look forward to engaging with our many stakeholders, including Salt Lake City, under the new framework adopted during the 2022 General Session to create an inland port that is a model of economic development and environmental sustainability," said House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper.

In a brief interview with FOX 13 News on Wednesday, Governor Spencer Cox said he supported the decision.

"I obviously think it’s the right decision. But I also will say I think it’s important that many of the concerns of the mayor and residents were addressed in this legislative session. Obviously not all of them. But I would say maybe 90% of the concerns were addressed, major changes that allowed us to come together. We are in a much better place," he said.

Earlier this year, the mayor and council negotiated a deal with the Utah State Legislature to give the city a cut of potentially millions in tax revenues. But the city lost a voting seat on the Inland Port Authority Board.

Utah Inland Port Authority issued a statement on the ruling.

"UIPA will continue to support the State of Utah in challenges related to the tax provisions of the Utah Inland Port Authority Act," the statement reads in part. "The Port Authority will also continue to fulfill the charge of the Utah Legislature by providing smart, sustainable, and equitable logistics solutions for all of Utah. UIPA is committed to future-proofing Utah’s link in the global supply chain, modernizing logistics to safeguard Utah’s natural beauty and reduce risk, and improving quality of life by enhancing community livability."

Read the ruling here: