Salt Lake City’s mayor seeks a court order to stop the inland port from moving forward

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski wants to stop a controversial development on a large swath of the city’s northwest side from moving forward while the court considers her lawsuit.

The move to seek an injunction was part of an amended lawsuit filed Monday against the governor, the state of Utah and the Inland Port Authority Board in the 3rd District Court. If granted, it would keep the port authority from spending or committing any of the city’s property tax increment or sales tax to the project, as well as prohibit it from any planning, design or construction until the lawsuit is settled.

“To protect the taxpayers of Salt Lake City while this case proceeds, it is our hope the court will honor this injunction request,” Biskupski said at a news conference Monday. “There is no question that this lawsuit is Salt Lake City’s only hope to rectify this disaster. Negotiations have not worked. Every time Salt Lake City elected officials have gone back to the table to make adjustments, the city’s core municipal functions have been weakened further.”

Biskupski’s original lawsuit, which she filed in March, was amended in response to recent changes to state law but continues to question the constitutionality of the state’s takeover of some 19,000 acres of land and the city’s subsequent loss of millions of dollars in tax revenues.

HB433, which passed earlier this year, gave the inland port board the authority to take 100% of the city’s property tax increment and extended the amount of time the authority will take the tax increment from the city.

“The lawsuit I have filed continues to argue that the state’s seizure of the city’s taxing and land use authority is unconstitutional," she said.

In response to mounting public opposition not only over the state taking control of city land but also about potential environmental impacts that could come as a result of the project, the port board has argued that the land will be developed with or without its direction and that the project could possibly be more sustainable under state control.

That was a sentiment Board Chair Derek Miller hit on in his response to the mayor’s amended lawsuit.

“We will let the politicians and lawyers argue and fight while the board moves forward building the most technologically advanced port in the nation,” he said.

The mayor’s announcement comes less than a week after she met with port opponents and criticized the City Council for attempting last year to block her from filing a lawsuit without the council’s permission.

Council Chairman Charlie Luke said in a statement Monday that the council was notified about the new filing after it was submitted to the court.

“As with the initial filing, the council was not included nor briefed on the content of today’s amended filing,” he said. “Now that the amendments are within the court system, we are anxious to see whether the city’s authority can be fully restored. The Salt Lake City Council unanimously has done everything within our ability to mitigate damage to the city.”

Deeda Seed, an anti-port activist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said that she sees the lawsuit as an important step. But even if this lawsuit is not successful, she said, that doesn’t spell the end of the legal battles, as there are other legal challenges that could be brought against the project, including under the National Environmental Policy Act.