SALT LAKE CITY — While Salt Lake City officials warily await a bill to establish a state inland port in the city's northwest quadrant, a deal is already in progress to clean up a swath of land long eyed for that purpose.
The roughly 770-acre site of the old Salt Lake City landfill, located north of I-80 and west of 5600 West, is owned by Suburban Land Reserve, a real estate arm of the LDS Church, but conversations are taking place to put the land under the purview of a state agency.
David Ure, director of the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, confirmed Tuesday the agency is "working out agreements" with Suburban Land Reserve regarding the old landfill site. He declined to elaborate on those discussions citing confidentiality agreements.
Ure said the agency intends to clean up the landfill site for development, but he stopped short of confirming it would be for an inland port, noting that negotiations are ongoing and there's a meeting planned with "players of the northwest quadrant" later this week.
"Our main objective is to get a piece of property cleaned up so that the school kids will have a source of revenue and we are players in whatever is the best use of that property within the state of Utah," Ure said.
Dale Bills, spokesman for the Suburban Land Reserve, referred comment on the matter to the trust lands agency.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake City officials remain braced for a turf battle with the state over the 3,000-acre area slated for development spurred by the relocation of the Utah State Prison and the $100 million infrastructure it's bringing with it.
Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, confirmed Tuesday a bill is being prepared for this legislative session to establish an inland port, or a global trade hub, in Salt Lake City's northwest quadrant, though it's not yet clear exactly what that bill will look like.
Salt Lake City officials have been on guard ever since the final days of the 2017 legislative session, when Stevenson filed a final-hour bill that would have created an "inland port development area" and diluted city control of the northwest quadrant's development to just one seat on a board of various officials, including members from the state, Salt Lake County and other organizations.
Stevenson has told the Deseret News that the bill was meant as a "warning shot" to Salt Lake City to be good partners with the state on the area's development.
Stevenson said Tuesday the bill being drafted now will be different than last year's — and he has said anything the state moves forward with will be in "partnership" with Salt Lake City.
House Speaker Greg Hughes said the state wants to work with the city, not take over control.
"It's not meant as an adversarial move," he said Tuesday. "It's meant to be done together."
But Salt Lake City Councilman James Rogers said he remains concerned about any effort of the state to take control of the northwest quadrant.
"It's an absolute travesty if the state does decide to pull the trigger and basically steal this from us," Rogers said, adding that city leaders have already been partnering with the state on the area's development.
Rogers also pointed out the city earlier this month already passed a development agreement with northwest quadrant landowners.
"We don't need a bill to mandate partnership," he said, complaining that state officials don't like it when the federal government tells them how to manage their lands.
"But here we are, having Big Brother come in and threaten to do things through bills and oversight when we can handle it," Rogers said.
Hughes said Salt Lake City's northwest quadrant and a possible inland port have the potential to be a great "long-range opportunity" for not just Salt Lake City, but also for Salt Lake County and the entire state of Utah.
"It's a great opportunity, but it's not one that I think we have to put on one city," Hughes said.
Salt Lake County also has an interest in what happens with the area — though County Mayor Ben McAdams said Tuesday he strongly believes any land use or zoning decisions need to remain under the city's control.
"My position is urban planning is best done at the local level, so I support Salt Lake City taking the lead on planning this area," McAdams said.
However, McAdams said if the development area requires any tax increment from the county, he'd want the county to have a seat at the table.
McAdams said he's aware a bill has been talked about, but like others, he doesn't know yet what it would contain. He said he is hopeful, however, that "it can be done in a collaborative way."
David Litvack, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski's deputy chief of staff, said the city intends to continue partnering with the state, county and others, but "we're uncertain on where the need exists for legislation to ensure that those partnerships continue."
Litvack and McAdams both said the landfill property has long been discussed as an area that could be a prime location for some type of global hub because of its proximity to rail, I-80 and Salt Lake City International Airport.
Litvack said city officials have been in "many conversations over the last year and a half" regarding potential clean up and development of the old landfill property, and he said the city sees the trust lands administration as a "partner" in that effort.7 comments on this story
Lance Bullen, president and CEO of Colmena Group, which represents land owners in the northwest quadrant, said his association and Rio Tinto Kennecott have been working well with Salt Lake City to negotiate development agreements.
"We want this to become an area that the city, state, county, everyone can be proud of, and it's time to come together and find a solution that works," he said. "It's not about taking control; it's about finding an authority that can transcend boundaries and accomplish a greater good."
Bullen said he's hopeful there's a way to accomplish that without a law in place because he's "skeptical that a bill can work without stalling the market conditions" of the area.