Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
State Rep. Francis D. Gibson, R-Mapleton, discusses a Utah Inland Port Authority bill during a special session of the Legislature at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. The bill, which was sponsored by Gibson, passed both houses.

A proposed inland port in the northwest section of Salt Lake City holds great promise for enhancing the local economy. The combination of an international airport, rail lines, mass transit and a major interstate makes that area uniquely fit for a commercial receiving and distribution center.

With that in mind, we applaud Utah lawmakers and other affected parties for negotiating changes to a bill creating a port authority, passed in a special session Wednesday. These changes, as some have noted, do not make for a perfect, final solution, but the governance and rules establishing the authority are much better today than they were when lawmakers hastily passed the initial bill in the waning hours of last winter’s legislative session.

Members of the Salt Lake City Council supported the new version of the bill, which they worked hard to modify. The previous bill short-changed the city on tax increment revenue from the port and raised issues related to land-use jurisdiction. The new version shrinks the port’s boundaries to exclude already developed areas, and it clarifies the appeals process for the authority’s land-use decisions.

While members of the City Council still have concerns, the compromise allows the port to proceed. The Legislature may amend the governing structure as needed in the future as new concerns or problems arise. What is important now is that all sides have agreed on a framework that allows things to begin.

Unfortunately, Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski chose not to be a part of the negotiations, deciding instead to stand on the sidelines. That tactic has made the mayor’s office irrelevant in this process. It certainly had little effect on the bill’s final passage.

The Utah League of Cities and Towns, which represents the interests of all cities in the state, supported the compromise, which is a significant indication that the authority now is more aligned with city interests.

Because of its far-reaching impact on commerce along the Wasatch Front, the inland port would impact and benefit more than just Salt Lake City. The support of the League of Cities and Towns, therefore, was important.

So was the state’s leadership in establishing the port authority — something that had been lacking for decades as discussions about establishing a port droned on.

Now that the inland port is being established, we reiterate our concerns that it must operate in complete transparency. That includes open meetings and records. It also includes complete disclosures of any conflicts of interest.

Lawmakers tweaked the bill’s conflict-of-interest language Wednesday, as well. The prohibition on board members owning property, other than a primary private residence, within a 5-mile radius of the port remains, but it’s now clear that the prohibition on board members being associated with entities that own property in the area applies only to private firms or agencies.

Also, language was changed so that the City Council member whose district includes the airport will serve on the board regardless of any conflicts. However, such conflicts still must be publicly disclosed.

House Speaker Greg Hughes resigned from the board earlier this year because of conflicts involving his own business interests. But City Councilman James Rogers, who owns rental office space in the 5-mile zone, may continue to serve.

This is an acceptable compromise so long as the public is made completely aware of where the council member’s interests may intersect with the public’s interests.

6 comments on this story

The idea of an inland port is not unique. Several of them already exist nationwide. Notwithstanding concerns about a global trade war, internet commerce and trade have grown to a point that traditional seaports are overwhelmed.

Utah’s inland port not only would relieve some of that pressure, it would provide a more direct trading pipeline to the Wasatch Front and the surrounding region.

The port’s governance structure naturally will evolve as government interests collide and needs arise, but the Legislature now appears to have given Utah’s port a good start.