Lawmakers will meet this week and vote on a bill that would change the development of a controversial new shipping-and-receiving hub in northwest Salt Lake City after months of closed-door negotiations, Gov. Gary Herbert announced Monday.
The latest version of the bill would shrink the boundaries of the proposed Utah Inland Port by more than 4,000 acres to bring it to about 20,000. It would make changes to the way the port authority pays for services, such as reimbursing cities for police in the sweeping area that state and business leaders hope will become home to manufacturing plants and storage space where goods are produced, imported and exported.
The proposed changes come amid tension over what’s described as the largest economic development project in Utah’s history. Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski has declined to take part in negotiations that included top legislative leaders, members of the City Council and the governor.
While Biskupski’s office described the latest version of the bill as “questionable,” City Council members stood alongside Herbert as he announced he would call legislators into session for changes to the port and applauded the proposed tweaks.
“We’ve been able to address our consistent concerns [in the draft bill],” Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall said.
Herbert’s proclamation calls for changes that will shrink the port boundaries to exclude wetlands and address tax-sharing between the port authority and taxing entities, land use appeals and conflicts of interest for board members. It also calls for changes to “other provisions" of the law.
Here are the top proposed changes to the bill lawmakers passed on the eve of the last day of the legislative session earlier this year. There will be a public hearing on the bill Wednesday before the Legislature takes any vote.
Councilman James Rogers stays on board
Provisions in the law that cost two legislators their seats on the port authority board of directors would be changed to allow Salt Lake City Councilman James Rogers to retain his seat.
Rogers is part owner of a business park in northern Salt Lake City that is within a five-mile conflict-of-interest zone legislators created with the original bill, SB234. The law says no one can sit on the board if he or she owns property within five miles of the port’s sprawling boundaries.
The law also said “the member of the Salt Lake City Council” whose district includes the port would sit on the board automatically. But the port boundaries include both Rogers’ and Councilman Andrew Johnston’s districts. Rogers and Johnston agreed Rogers should sit on the board despite the problematic language.
Two members — House Speaker Greg Hughes, who appointed himself, and Sen. Don Ipson, who was appointed by Senate President Wayne Niederhauser — resigned because their property holdings violated the law.
The group negotiating the compromise apparently considered changing the conflict-of-interest provisions created by SB234 to allow board members to own property within five miles as long as they didn’t also receive “a direct financial benefit” as a result of the port development.
The latest version doesn’t include that provision. It would clarify that the council member whose district includes the airport — Rogers — will be on the board. It would also allow Rogers, Utah Department of Transportation Director Carlos Braceras and Salt Lake County regional development director Stuart Clason, all of whom would be on the board because of the positions they hold and not because someone appointed them, to own land within five miles. They must disclose the ownership to the public, however.
Other conflict-of-interest changes
The draft bill would also make clear that people could serve on the board if they own an interest in any private company that they believe would get a financial benefit from the port development.
The change would address what Hughes said was vague language about board members, such as Braceras, inadvertently violating state law by negotiating a land deal on behalf of UDOT. The draft bill would make clear board members and port employees could take actions that benefit public entities, not private ones.
Who keeps the taxes?
One of Salt Lake City’s primary concerns was that the port authority could take all of the money that’s generated from the expected increase in property taxes when land values rise as a result of the port development. That won’t change under the bill.
Instead, the bill would require cities to provide the same municipal services within the port boundaries that they would in other, similar areas of town. In return, the port authority would use property tax revenue to cover the cost of the services.
The port would also share revenue with the cities in which the port operates — which includes Salt Lake City, West Valley City and Magna Township.
The port would also have to give Salt Lake City 10 percent of the increase to pay for housing for low- and moderate-income Utahns.
Critics of the port say it will be an air quality disaster, with a development that’s bustling with semitrucks, diesel-powered freight trains and cargo planes importing and exporting goods also leaving behind pollution in a county that already fails federal air quality standards.
The draft bill would require the port authority board to “include an environmental sustainability component" that would “meet or exceed applicable federal and state standards” on emissions monitoring and reporting and mitigating environmental impacts from the port’s development.
The new boundaries would also remove about 4,000 acres of wetlands, Mendenhall said.
During disputes over developments, a person or company appealing a land use decision must explain “any potential environmental impact the proposed development will have, including on air quality and groundwater,” according to the bill.
The board would be required to work with other cities and towns and “neighboring property owners and communities to mitigate potential negative impacts” from the port development.
Cities whose land is being used for the port now have until year’s end to create laws that allow for port development that’s subject to standards decided by the city as long as they are in line with the port’s goals.