Letter: A sleight of hand to grab $ 255 million in taxpayer money for a port railyard

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A rally against the Inland Port at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020.

Let’s skip over the excruciating details of past decisions made behind closed doors to develop the Utah Inland Port to see what is happening today.

The Utah Inland Port Authority (UIPA) has been under pressure from its private property owners to build a transloading facility. That’s a fancy term for a railyard, enabling (1) trains to bring truckloads of commodities to Utah and be unloaded for redistribution or additional processing at the Inland Port warehouses before being trucked out of state, and (2) fossil fuels, and water-thirsty alfalfa from farms like Gov. Cox’s, to be shipped to Oakland for export to Asia markets.

Demand by port investors for this new state-of-the-art transloading facility required more money, faster than the current tax increment financing structure supporting the port could provide.

So without any public notice, Jack Hedge has proposed a Public Infrastructure District (PID) encompassing the only piece of land in the port that is not privately held. That is SITLA land, formerly Salt Lake City’s dump. But it is big enough to host a $255 million railyard.

The UIPA board considered this PID funding mechanism at its meeting on Sept. 8; the staff intended that they approve it and they will soon — probably at a “special” meeting called with only 24 hours notice.

But there it is. A new entity with bonding authority — fancy term for obligating taxpayer funding — overseen by a tiny subset of the current UIPA board, and chaired by … Jack Hedge, executive director of the port!

No elected officials; no public hearing; no concern for community input.

A sleight of hand to grab $ 255 million in taxpayer money … enabling private owners to make more profit, while polluting our air with diesel toxins, drying up Great Salt Lake, and diverting precious water to their warehouses.

Alice McHugh, Salt Lake City

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