The Salt Lake City Council unanimously on Tuesday passed new rules to regulate the inland port after holding two public hearings in which the proposal was met with overwhelming support.
The amendments to the city’s zoning text will prohibit heavy industrial uses in the planned port area that could have significant air quality impacts — such as oil refineries, chemical manufacturing and mining — in favor of light industry, such as warehousing and food processing. It also will require companies proposing more impactful uses, like railroad freight terminals or recycling process centers, to complete an environmental mitigation plan.
And while the city can’t keep natural resources like coal and oil from passing through the port altogether, the changes will regulate the storage and transfer of natural resources, such as coal. Under the new rules, such materials will need to be stored indoors or treated with dust-preventing material if stored on rail cars.
“I think that the administration took a careful look at the opportunities that the text amendment process may have afforded to ensure that we receive as much information as is reasonable in the development process in the inland port, given the unprecedented nature of the inland port authority having certain jurisdiction,” Salt Lake City Council Chairwoman Erin Mendenhall told The Salt Lake Tribune after the vote. “So it’s a good thing and certainly not the last thing we’ll be doing as a city regarding the inland port.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski has told The Salt Lake Tribune that even with the regulations in place, the Inland Port Authority Board “still has the ability to override any decision that is made by this city government.”
The city fought the bill creating the inland port when it was unveiled and passed late on the eve of the final day of January’s legislative session. Protesting state overreach, loss of millions of dollars in potential tax revenues and a worrisome precedent for future state land grabs, city officials spent the next several months working to find a compromise with the port’s supporters at the Capitol, which they did in a special session in July without Biskupski’s involvement.
At its public hearings, the council heard mostly from residents concerned about the potential effects the planned 20,000-acre distribution hub in Salt Lake City’s westernmost area could have on air quality and the environment.
The mayor told a group of residents in September that the legislation that created the port is “unconstitutional” and would likely face litigation. Until then, she told The Salt Lake Tribune in October that the city is doing what it can to address residents’ environmental concerns.