SALT LAKE CITY — Community council representatives, environmental groups and the Utah League of Women Voters voiced their concerns Sunday over a legislative proposal to create an Inland Port Authority to oversee development in Salt Lake City's northwest quadrant.
"The citizens of the Westpointe Community Council, which encompasses most of the northwest quadrant, believe the Legislature's late introduction of this bill (SB234) is by design to impede fair and proper citizen and stakeholder due process," said Terry Thomas, vice chairman of the council.
Thomas and other opponents spoke Sunday at the state Capitol to detail their objections to the measure unveiled last week by Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton.
Critics worry the bill ultimately strips Salt Lake City of its power over land use and zoning because of the power of an appeals board for the port authority.
Ann O'Connell with the Utah League of Women Voters said rumors have been flying over state plans to put in an oil tank field or to store coal — plans she says are in stark contrast to natural attributes of the area.
"Important people will make a great deal of money," she said.
Stevenson has insisted that Salt Lake City will retain its taxing and zoning authority, but Salt Lake officials say it takes away their autonomy over the city's last undeveloped swath of land.
"This means that the city officials you have elected to represent you will not have final say on critical land use decisions for over 24,000 acres that exist in Salt Lake City," Mayor Jackie Biskupski said last week after the bill surfaced.
Critics say the Inland Port Authority bill undercuts more than two decades of planning that recognizes the area's open space and critical nature for migratory birds.
"The natural area was not determined through an arbitrary and capricious manner; it was based on decades of discussion, negotiation and collaboration with SLC major landowners, conservation advocates and other government agencies and was based firmly on scientific studies that identified land with the greatest natural values," said Ella Dibble Sorensen in a prepared statement.
Sorensen has managed the Audubon Gillmore Sanctuary adjacent to the northwest quadrant since 1995.
Critics want any action on the proposed Inland Port Authority to be delayed until more study and discussion during the summer interim.
They have also drafted an alternative bill they plan to present to Stevenson Monday and legislative leadership that proposes to create a Utah Inland Port Authority Board without exclusive jurisdiction over the land.7 comments on this story
Stevenson has said his bill is "fair" to Salt Lake City but is also a nod to the acknowledgement that an Inland Port Authority is of vital economic interest to the entire state, not just Salt Lake City.
Denni Cawley, executive director of the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said the Inland Port is an environmental issue as well.
"There is nothing wrong with economic development if it is done with community and environmental health as a foundation for decision making."