Even though the notion of creating an inland port in the northwest section of Salt Lake City has been embraced as a good idea by nearly all parties for years, if not decades, city leaders are now upset over the way the Legislature approved a port plan they see as a hostile usurpation of municipal jurisdiction.
City officials have a right to be peeved, but they also should reflect upon the fact that without the state taking the lead, the concept could have continued to linger indefinitely as nothing more than a good idea. It would have been best had the city and lawmakers been able to work out ways to accommodate the city’s desires in regard to oversight and taxing authority, which still could happen as the port authority board begins its work. The city also has a legitimate complaint with how the bill slid into passage in the session’s final days in a way that left city leaders feeling blindsided.
But in the context of recent history, the city has dawdled for decades on plans for an inland port, and has made little progress in finalizing overall development strategies for its sprawling northwest quadrant. Only after the port legislation was announced in early February did the City Council pass an ordinance allowing for “railroad freight terminal facilities” or “global trade ports” in the northwest quadrant. Though city leaders say they had previously been studying the concept of an inland port, there’s only scant evidence that affirmative movement was happening.
And that’s been the story since 1974, when the Legislature passed a law allowing state and local entities to combine to create official port authorities. Nothing happened until 1987 when Salt Lake County appropriated $150,000 for a feasibility study. As a result, the Salt Lake Intermountain Port Authority was created in 1990 to facilitate some international agricultural trade, though there was no follow-up work involving creation of actual facilities. It is unclear whether that original port authority was formally dissolved or if it simply died from neglect.
Two decades later, a bill before the governor would actually bring into fruition a plan that state, county and city leaders have spoken about favorably and often enthusiastically for nearly 40 years. It’s a plan that’s not to the liking of current city leaders, and it’s possible that partisan interests led to the city’s concerns being granted a less than enthusiastic reception on Capitol Hill. That a Republican-dominated Legislature seized control over a large percentage of land in a city with largely Democratic leadership is bad optics. But the bill creates a board on which will sit an appointee by the Salt Lake City mayor, the head of the city’s airport authority, a City Council member and a Salt Lake County economic development officer.7 comments on this story
We would hope that as plans move forward, city leaders are brought into the process in a way that gives formal weight to their input, especially involving how the land is developed and infrastructure put in place. Subsequently, the city should not be disadvantaged in the disbursement of tax revenue and other benefits from port operations.
For now, city leaders should put aside any anger, frustration or embarrassment and work diligently to help along a project that previous generations of civic leaders have seen as a viable opportunity to significantly enhance Utah’s role in international trade.