New inland port bill seeks to give Salt Lake City more representation

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) This aerial photo from June 2018 shows where the inland port will be built.

A state lawmaker whose community will be most impacted by the development of a massive distribution hub in the state’s capital city wants to give Salt Lake City residents more representation as the project moves forward and require the state to consider the environmental impacts of the development.

SB112, introduced Monday by state Sen. Luz Escamilla, would require the Utah Inland Port Authority to study the development and implementation of a fund to mitigate development impacts on nearby communities and to submit a written report outlining findings to the state Legislature by Oct. 1.

The bill would also require the Inland Port Authority Board to create minimum standards for a developer to qualify for authority financing or tax increment funding — including rules related to waste reduction and reuse, the management of hazardous materials and stormwater prevention, and dust mitigation.

When Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, described her bill in broad terms to The Salt Lake Tribune in an interview last month, before the text had been released, she said it was an effort to “prevent some of the bigger impacts coming our way, which we know will happen.”

“We want to be as proactive as possible,” she added.

The proposed requirements come amid ongoing concerns from inland port opponents about the possible environmental impacts of the project, which is expected to increase traffic and tailpipe emissions in Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant.

Escamilla’s bill seeks to address those concerns and those among Salt Lake City residents and leaders about its dearth of representation on the 11-member oversight board by adding two people: the mayor of Salt Lake City or her designee and a member of the Salt Lake City School District designated by the board of education.

That inland port board is made up of appointees from various government bodies, including the House and Senate, Salt Lake County and the executive director of the Department of Transportation. Salt Lake City currently has only one elected official on the board, plus someone from the airport authority board, while the Salt Lake City School District, which estimates it is the largest taxing entity affected by the port, has no representation.

“Just having one elected official from the city is not enough, especially when most of the inland port development will happen in Salt Lake City,” Escamilla told The Tribune last month.

In a statement, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said Escamilla’s bill “tackles some issues that are incredibly important to us."

“Creating a spot on the Inland Port Authority Board for the Salt Lake City mayor is something we absolutely support, and it’s imperative to ensure we have the environmental objectives necessary to make a clean and sustainable port,” she said.

Mendenhall and Escamilla ran against each other in last year’s race for Salt Lake City mayor, during which the inland port emerged as a major issue.

Inland port staff and new Executive Director Jack Hedge are seeking a number of changes to the port legislation in this year’s legislative session that they’ve described mostly as “cleanups.”

They haven’t called for any expansion of the board but are asking for at least one change to its makeup — a technical amendment that would give the seat now held by someone from the airport board to the airport’s executive director in an effort to bring more “technical expertise” to the body.

Hedge told The Tribune in a recent interview that the board hasn’t “had enough discussion" about whether to add seats to the board or what groups or communities those individuals should come from.

“It really starts to become a really big board, and how functional is that?” he said. “That’s some of the thinking you have to put into it."

Escamilla has sponsored legislation in the past related to the possible environmental impacts of the development, which has been pitched by port proponents as the state’s largest ever economic development project. Last year she sponsored and passed a bill that required monitoring for impacts on air and water quality as a result of both the port and the ongoing $4.1 billion airport expansion.

State leaders have pitched the port as the state’s largest-ever economic development endeavor, with the potential to create a number of high-paying jobs. Board members have also promised that the board will incentivize environmentally sustainable development in the area with the best green technology available.

State lawmakers are expected to consider a bill that has not yet been released to the public but would give cities back a measure of their land use authority within the boundaries of the project area and codify the state’s commitment to sustainable development — a message to both port opponents and developers that they’re serious about those promises.

Lawmakers are also considering legislation from Sen. Jake Anderegg calling for the development of a statewide rail plan that would take the inland port into consideration.