by Thomas A. Paine
Let’s take a look at two important land use issues to pay attention to as we head into interim and special sessions, as well as the next regular state legislative session.
The first important land use and sovereignty issue worth discussing is the Salt Lake Inland Port Authority. What is that, you ask? It’s about 20,000 acres of the northwest quadrant of Salt Lake City (and some small portions of Magna and West Valley City (see map). For reference, that’s almost a third of the entire city’s footprint.
As described in this older KSL article (conveniently linked via archive.is, so you don’t have to give the propagandists your valuable clicks), “an inland port, or dry port, typically refers to a logistics and distribution hub inland from coastal seaports.”
Since movement began on this plan under then-governor Gary Herbert around 2018 with senate bill SB234, some city leaders have expressed concern that the state is making a “land grab” that would mean valuable tax revenue would be diverted from the city’s schools and libraries. SB234 gives the inland port authority power to establish a foreign trade zone in the land area set aside for the inland port, and gives the port authority the right to recruit businesses for the inland port, plus develop and improve public infrastructure on the land. Tax revenue from the increase in property value would go to the port authority — which could mean more than $500 million in revenue over the next 25 years. On top of that, the port authority will also be able to issue a bond or seek federal funding to develop the land. The original board of 11 people designated to be in control of all this has been whittled down to just 5 individuals.
So, there’s big money involved, and also a relinquishing of control and assets in the wrong direction: from local upward to larger governments (or in this case, small powerful groups empowered by state government). And as we follow the protestations of city government, plus the protests of local residents, we see that it’s a case of state-level government once again usurping power. Remember, the land is ours, and without land, we’re just serfs.
Sure, 20,000 acres is a lot of land. On the other hand, so is 3.4 million acres. That’s what at stake with the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA. This government group manages the millions of acres of Utah’s “ trust lands,” which are held in trust for 12 specific public beneficiary entities that the United States Congress designated when Utah became a state.
About 6% of the land in Utah falls under the category of trust land. SITLA works with businesses to produce revenue derived from energy and mineral sales, as well as real estate development. So far, SITLA has generated $1.96 billion toward the trust beneficiaries.
That’s great, but take a look at those numbers again — only six percent of our state land is part of the trust, and it’s generated almost two billion dollars. Now consider this: 64.5% of the land in Utah is currently owned by the federal government, which continues to illegally squat on (and pillage the resources of) this huge percentage of our lands. That’s over ten times the land held in trust and administered by SITLA. Imagine multiplying that two billion dollars generated by SITLA trust lands by ten.
If the federal government would honor its statehood agreement and relinquish our lands back to us, we’d be so flush with cash and natural resources we would never have to take another federal government dollar, all of which always come with strings attached. We’d have such a budget surplus we could fully fund education if we wanted to, and likely eliminate state income taxes.
The fight to own and manage our own land, instead of being beholden to the federal government, is really the fight for our right to sovereignty and prosperity.