Land deal finalized to clean up, develop old Salt Lake landfill, likely for inland port

SALT LAKE CITY — A real estate arm of the LDS Church has donated to a state agency the site of the old Salt Lake City landfill — a 770-acre property in the city’s northwest quadrant that has long been eyed as part of an inland port development.

The land, located north of I-80 between 5600 West and 7200 West, was owned by Suburban Land Reserve, a real estate arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, up until late last month, when discussions were finalized to transfer the land to the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

Rodger Mitchell, assistant director of the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration’s property and planning management, confirmed Wednesday that the Suburban Land Reserve had donated the land, a transfer finalized Feb. 28.

The property has an assessed value of $2.35 million, according to the Salt Lake County assessor’s website.

“It’s a good piece of property,” Mitchell said. “And now we need to go in and plan it.”

Dale Bills, spokesman for Suburban Land Reserve, declined comment on the transaction and referred questions to the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

The area has been long discussed as a prime location for an inland port development because of its proximity to rail, interstates and the Salt Lake City International Airport.

Mitchell said discussions with Salt Lake City regarding cleanup and development of the old landfill have been in the works for “well over a year,” though he said the land deal has had “really no connection” to the recently passed bill to create an inland port jurisdiction area over about 20,000 acres of Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant.

“We knew legislators were talking about it, but we have been in conversations with Salt Lake City,” Mitchell said. “So it took us kind of by surprise how fast and serious (lawmakers) were about it.”

“But it can be a really good thing,” he added. “The state can bring more assets to the table and more investment.”

The inland port bill, SB234, was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert last week despite outcry from Salt Lake City leaders that a new governing board would usurp city land use control and would have the power to capture up to 100 percent of the area’s tax increment. Herbert has acknowledged the city’s concerns and has indicated he will call a special session to make adjustments to the bill.

Though it’s too soon to say exactly how the land would be integrated into an inland port development, Mitchell said, “we think an inland port would certainly enhance the value of the property — all the properties down there.”

But the former landfill site would first need to be cleaned up.

Those costs could be tens of millions, Mitchell said, but he added the state agency has determined it would be “economically feasible” to consider the land for future remediation, and the property could be subject to a voluntary cleanup program administered by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

The school lands trust manages a real estate portfolio and deposits profits from development to a fund for Utah’s public education system. It’s too soon to say how much of a return the landfill property could yield once it’s developed, Mitchell said, but the agency projects the site could result in significant income for the trust fund.

“We’ve got a lot of steps we have to take,” Mitchell said, but he expects the plans will be developed over the next year, and cleanup will likely take a year or two.

Prior to SB234, Salt Lake City officials had been working on development agreements with northwest quadrant property owners on the creation of an inland port development, but this week, city leaders pushed pause on future development agreements until issues with the bill could be addressed in a special session.

Lara Fritts, director of the city’s Department of Economic Development, said Salt Lake City officials have “contemplated” the possibility of creating a project area that included the 770-acre site of the landfill, but had been waiting until a plan could be put in place for remediation of the site.

“We were hopeful that we could continue to do the great planning that we’ve been doing, but obviously the inland port bill has put a pause on that activity,” Fritts said.

She said it’s also too soon to say how the property would be integrated into an inland port development, but because of its location to rail and interstate, the land could be a good fit for an “intermodal facility” or an area serviced by rail where cargo could be unloaded onto trucks for delivery.

Either way, Salt Lake City is “supportive of the effort” as long as city leaders have a seat “at the table,” Fritts said.

Mitchell said the state agency is committed to working with the city, neighboring landowners and other stakeholders as plans for the area are developed.

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