Oakland Council decision rekindles Utah’s $53 million debate

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Oakland City Council changed the debate over the use of $53 million in Utah, and there are strong opinions about what should now happen with the money.

The Council voted unanimously to ban coal exports from going through Oakland ports, nullifying a plan for Utah to lease part of a new deep water port to move coal to nations around the Pacific Rim.

With Oakland’s port off the table, at least for now, Jeffrey Barrett, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Development, says the funds released by the state legislature can be used for any number of projects aimed at increasing the markets for Utah resources.

“What the state is focused on is not any one opportunity. We're focused on the big picture and the big picture is exporting our commodities,” Barrett said.

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, was critical of the deep water port plan from the start. He said the funds were originally meant to help communities deal with the negative effects of coal and coal mining, and he hopes that’s where the money goes now.

“I think it's high time we developed a plan for the coal mining communities of Utah and the United States to start making a rapid and healthy transition to expanding their economy and growing their economy in different ways,” Briscoe said.