Judge sides with state, tosses SLC’s lawsuit over inland port

SALT LAKE CITY -- A judge has sided with the state of Utah and rejected Salt Lake City's lawsuit challenging the inland port project.

In a ruling issued late Wednesday, 3rd District Court Judge James Blanch ruled the state's actions in creating the Inland Port Authority did not step on municipal or land use powers. The lawsuit, filed by former Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, challenged the project as stepping on the city's land use and taxing authority. She accused the state of a "land grab" by claiming as much as a third of the city for the project.

"The City argues that in creating the Authority, the Legislature created the functional equivalent of a city by special law for the sole purpose of interfering with the City's constitutionally granted authority over its municipal functions and municipal monies," Judge Blanch wrote. "But the Authority is not a city or a town; it is a special commission created by the Legislature..."

Judge Blanch denied Salt Lake City's request to halt the inland port project and granted the state of Utah's motion for summary judgment, dismissing the case.

As a candidate, Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she would continue the lawsuit filed by per predecessor. Speaking to reporters late Wednesday, Mayor Mendenhall said she intended to appeal the case all the way to the Utah Supreme Court, if necessary.

The inland port is a massive import-export center being created just west of Salt Lake City International Airport. In concept, it would move goods in quickly in and out of Utah, bypassing the traditional customs port. But the proposal has faced pushback since its inception.

Environmental groups have protested the project, arguing that with increased trucks and trains, it will harm the Wasatch Front's already problematic air quality. It is also being located by the Great Salt Lake, which is home to wetlands and migratory birds. The protests have gotten so heated, police have arrested people demonstrating at the Inland Port Authority Board meetings and offices.

The protests have gotten so raucous it has been difficult for the Inland Port Authority to even meet.

"The Port Authority continues to be laser focused on completing a strategic business plan that aligns our mission with a revolutionizing global logistics system for the next generation," Inland Port Authority Executive Director Jack Hedge said in a statement. "Regardless of today’s outcome, we will continue to promote sustainable and smart logistics investment through partnerships, policies and programs as an entity that serves to insert the values of the public into the process."

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers who supported the inland port project were pleased with the ruling. Senate President Stuart Adams called it "fantastic news" for Utah.

“The legislature always seeks to pass constitutional legislation. The formation of an inland port came after years of studies and consideration. Judge James Blanch confirmed and agreed with our assessment that the creation of the Inland Port Authority did not violate the Constitution and rejected all claims suggesting it did," he said in a statement released by his office.

Governor Gary Herbert appeared to offer an olive branch to Salt Lake City.

"We appreciate the thoughtful analysis the District Court put into this ruling. While achieving perfection in lawmaking is difficult, collaboration is key to achieving the best possible results," the governor's office told FOX 13 in a statement. "We appreciated working with both the legislative branch and representatives of the Salt Lake City Council during the 2018 general session to help make adjustments in the inland port bill. Those adjustments ultimately led to a better version of the bill. We look forward to continued collaboration between the Inland Port Authority, Salt Lake City, and its residents."

Read the judge's ruling here: 

This is a breaking news story. Updates on FOX 13 News and fox13now.com as information becomes available.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.