State legislation coming to push inland port in undeveloped northwest Salt Lake City after wary city leaders just OK’d their own plan


(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Mayor Jackie Biskupski, right, and city official Laura Briefer discuss future plans for the undeveloped northwest quadrant of Salt Lake City. Laura Briefer, Director of Public Utilities, answers questions about the the city's plan to develop the Northwest Quadrant, directly west of Salt Lake City International Airport, and the International Center, as Mayor Jackie Biskupski listens, Monday, December 5, 2016.

State lawmakers are planning another run at advancing a state-driven inland port initiative for Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant, and, like last year, the move has wary city officials worried about the state’s motives.

House Speaker Greg Hughes confirmed Monday that a bill supporting the port concept would emerge in the current session, though he had not seen the legislation. He said the state wanted to cooperate with the city, not usurp its authority.

The inland, or global, port idea “is an opportunity for long-range economic development for the city,” Hughes said. “But that is a state of Utah opportunity that I particularly wouldn’t want to foist on one jurisdiction or municipality saying, ‘You handle it all on behalf of the state and its economy.’ ”

A bill last year proposed a new stand-alone entity with representation from various stakeholders to guide development on the more than 3,000 acres of largely vacant land which is home both to the expanding city airport and the new state prison now being built. Essentially a legislative trial balloon, the bill’s sponsor then said he did not expect it to advance far in the Legislature and it died without a hearing.

The city has since advanced its own plans for the area, recently approving a package of development agreements with landowners there that commits the city to reinvesting $123 million in anticipated tax revenue from future development back into the area. The city is also covering roughly half of the cost of new roads, sewer lines and other utilities out to the new prison.

The prospect of an inland “port” in Utah — a land-based entry point for overseas goods bound for points throughout the country via rail or road — has existed for decades, getting its latest boost last summer with the creation of a governor-appointed exploratory committee to conduct a feasibility study.

Hughes said the state’s as-yet-unannounced plan “wouldn’t be a negative to the city” but would leverage “our collective resources.”

“I hope it’s received in that kind of spirit — not as a draconian takeover but really as a cooperation, because I think it’s bigger than Salt Lake City,” he said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski has been apprised of the forthcoming legislation, which still lacks detail or a confirmed sponsor. A meeting involving potential stakeholders is being set up for later this week.

“What we know for sure is that it involves the northwest portion of the city where there has been discussion of the global port,” said David Litvack, Biskupski’s deputy chief of staff, adding that the city has always viewed the state and other stakeholders as partners in developing the area.

“Not knowing the specifics of the legislation, it’s hard to speak to how that changes the nature of the partnership,” he said. “We’re interested in the dialogue and the conversation, but I think we also feel that legislation may not be necessary to continuing the partnership.”

The City Council, acting as the city Redevelopment Agency, approved the city’s northwest quadrant plan Jan. 16.

“The city has been open to partnerships in the northwest quadrant and the potential global port area,” City Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall said Monday. “But I don’t believe we’re open to changes to the existing governance that would take away taxing authority to any extent from the city.”

Hughes said the city’s plan “shows a desire to kind of collaborate and work together.”

“We hope to work off of that and have that be part of the process moving forward,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t stymie what we’re talking about in the legislative body.”