A bill that would expand the scope of the inland port, a massive distribution hub planned for Salt Lake City’s westernmost side, received final passage in the Legislature on Wednesday and heads to the governor for his signature.
HB433, sponsored by inland port board member and House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, received a favorable 21-5 vote in the Senate Wednesday morning, followed by a 57-10 vote in the House later in the day to sign off on amendments made to the bill.
Gibson’s original proposal had included a controversial prohibition against legal challenges to the “creation, existence, funding, powers, project areas or duties of the Utah Inland Port Authority” and the use of public money to bring forward any litigation.
He then amended the bill so that a local government’s legislative body could bring forward a lawsuit, but an executive or administrative branch could not — a provision that seemed directly pointed at Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, who opposes the inland port.
Biskupski filed suit against the Inland Port Authority on Monday, challenging what she sees as its unconstitutional usurping of city taxing and land-use powers and arguing that the timing was right to bring the suit because she would soon lose that ability.
The final version of the bill passed Wednesday removed the restrictions on litigation altogether.
But Matthew Rojas, a spokesman for Biskupski’s office, said the mayor has no intention of withdrawing the lawsuit. “The removed language was not a part of the lawsuit,” Rojas said in a written statement. “Rather, the mayor is challenging the heart of the legislation, which usurps the city’s land use and taxing authority, which the mayor and others believe violates the Utah Constitution.”
In a split from the mayor, the Salt Lake City Council has offered support for the legislation.
The primary goal of Gibson’s bill is to shift the inland port development from its focus on a single site in the state’s capital to a multisite approach that would include rural areas across the state.
In the so-called ‘hub-and-spoke’ model, Salt Lake City would serve as the hub, while other interested communities would make up the spokes — an effort to make it easier for communities with exports to clear international customs.
The bill would allow the Inland Port Authority Board, which oversees the inland port development, to expand the project beyond its current boundaries if it receives written consent from the governmental body of the new area or from the private landowner. Several rural counties have already expressed interest in the project.
Inland Port Board Chair Derek Miller praised the bill’s passage on Wednesday and gave a shout out to the bill’s sponsors, the Salt Lake City Council, the Utah League of Cities and Towns, HEAL Utah, and others who collaborated on the bill.
“This bill will advance the Utah Inland Port project and benefit Utah and its residents,” he said in a written statement. “[HB433] will expand economic opportunities statewide, encourage investment and accountability for clean air, and open trade to international areas for our growing state.”
Deeda Seed, an activist with the Coalition for Port Reform, derided passage of the bill, arguing that it gives more power to an “unelected, unaccountable body" and raised concerns that it wouldn’t work to reduce environmental impacts, as its sponsor has promised.
“The goal of the port authority apparently is to subsidize the development of fossil fuel transloading facilities,” she said in a statement. “These types of facilities are dangerous, handling volatile materials, contributing to air pollution and causing other harms to neighboring communities. As Utah faces the consequences of polluted air and climate change, the last thing we should be doing is subsidizing industries that will contribute to both.”