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Salt Lake City appeals in legal fight against Utah Inland Port Authority

Salt Lake City appeals in legal fight against Utah Inland Port Authority

(Scott G. Winterton, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City is appealing after a judge’s ruling affirmed the Utah Inland Port Authority, the latest development in the city’s legal challenge to the state-created panel.

Attorneys for Utah’s capital city filed a formal notice of appeal Wednesday in 3rd District Court, a move anticipated since Judge James Blanch ruled against the city last month, finding the board constitutional.

Now, Salt Lake City is asking the Utah Supreme Court to review its legal arguments centered on the 11-member board created with a 2018 state law. The Inland Port Authority was tasked with overseeing the development of a global trade hub across 16,000 acres in northwestern Salt Lake County.

“This case and how it’s decided will have a permanent impact on our city, and on cities throughout Utah,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in a Wednesday tweet. “It’s our responsibility to get clarity from a higher court.”

The court case has centered on who should get to control of the jurisdiction’s future property tax dollars and have final say on land use. The outcome of the case will set precedent across Utah’s 248 cities and towns, Mendenhall has said in the past.

In his January ruling, Blanch rejected the city’s argument that the board violates the Utah Constitution’s “Ripper Clause” regarding local powers.

The city had argued state leaders ran afoul of the Utah Constitution when they created the board.

Attorneys for the state countered that stalling the project would cause “irreparable” harm to not just the port authority, but also state residents. They noted negotiations were already happening with potential investors that could infuse more than $100 million into the planned trade hub.

Since the board was established by state leaders in 2018, environmental advocates and others have voiced concerns about potential impacts on pollution and traffic along the Wasatch Front, where air quality has tracked among the dirtiest in the country.

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski walked away from negotiations with state leaders early on, saying the legislation was “designed to incrementally force Salt Lake City to bend to the Legislature’s will.” Mendenhall, as then-City Council chairwoman, took the helm in 2018 and continued negotiations for improvements to the legislation later passed in a special session.

Gov. Gary Herbert’s office staff cheered the judge’s January ruling but also said it welcomed more collaboration with Salt Lake City on the issue.

Blanch found the state “articulated sufficiently compelling state interests” justifying the board’s authority to make land use and zoning decisions. He noted that while currently within the city’s borders, the inland port project is expected to expand.

No further arguments or deadlines have been scheduled.

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