The new Inland Port Authority board cut short its first meeting on Monday after questions arose about its authority to make any decisions for the time being.
"There are questions here about qualifications of members of the board,” said John Fellows, General Counsel to the Utah Legislature, "in light of the ethical constraints that I think maybe need to be worked through” before the board starts making substantial decisions."
Two of the 11 port authority seats haven’t been filled yet. And several members still haven’t filed required conflict-of-interest statements or cleared their ethics reviews. Fellows also said the State Constitution requires members to be sworn in.
“I would argue that before people swear an oath of office," he said, "they ought to make sure that they don’t run afoul of the various ethics provisions.”
The Capitol Hill meeting was a clunky start to what has been billed as the biggest-ever economic development project in Utah history.
The Legislature and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development have already promised nearly $2 million to help study, plan and start the inland port. And, as lobbyists, environmentalists and government staffers looked on, panel members ended the meeting halfway through the two hours scheduled. Decisions on basic tasks, such as electing a chairman, have been moved to the next meeting, which hasn’t been scheduled.
But there’s still enthusiasm for the concept of building an industrial center in the northwestern corner of Salt Lake City that could become a hub for incoming and outgoing goods like oil, coal and high-tech products.
“I know some of you think it’s controversial,” said Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican. “I think most of us think it’s just an opportunity.”
Derek Miller, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and a port authority member, said he envisions a foreign trade zone “that will continue to put Utah on the map as not just the crossroads of the West but as the crossroads of the world.”
Vickie Samuelson of the Utah League of Women Voters, lives in the project area and attended Monday’s meeting. She and other critics worry about environmental impacts like air pollution and harm birds at the Great Salt Lake nearby.
“I’m disappointed about today,” she said. “Obviously, I was hoping we could get way more done.”