Let me preface this post by saying it’s mostly speculation. Still, if you are concerned with the Mountain Accord, you may want to continue reading.
The Mountain Accord launched a few years ago to charges that it was really a transportation plan, shrouded in an environmental veil. The Mountain Accord folks pivoted and made sure that the “focus” was environmental. Yet, some interesting things have happened over the past few months. Let’s throw out some dots and see if they connect….
First, the Mountain Accord is now funded under the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). Previously it was funded by UTA (Utah Transit Authority). GOED are the folks charged with making sure Utah’s economy continues to hum.
Second, about a month ago the UTA Vice-Chairman, along with two other board members, resigned after it was disclosed that 2 UTA board members, 5 Utah legislators, and a GOED representative had travelled to Switzerland to meet with Stadler Rail, who makes railway systems (including those that work in mountain terrain). The Deseret News reported, “The lawmakers recently defended the trip, saying they play a role in building relationships with people who can help Utah grow economically.”
Third, this trip actually seems to have been productive. Stadler Rail agreed to put a temporary manufacturing plant in Tooele, to build parts for it’s TexRail system for use in Texas.
So far, so good. It sounds like Utah Legislators and the Governor’s Office are trying to bring new companies to Utah. I suppose you can’t argue with that.
Yet, now it seems that the state government is pushing for a permanent manufacturing facility in Utah. The Governor’s Press Release dates, “If Stadler Rail selects Utah for its permanent location, the company may earn up to 25 percent of the new state taxes it will pay over the 15-year life of the agreement in the form of a post-performance incentive. As part of the proposed contract with Stadler Rail, the GOED Board of Directors has approved a post-performance incentive not to exceed $10,068,900. This amount includes both an Economic Development Tax Increment Finance (EDTIF) tax credit rebate and an Industrial Assistance Fund (IAF) grant of $500,000. The first half of the IAF grant is for necessary rail-related upgrades, with the other half of the funding available for facility upgrades upon permanent selection of the Utah location. Once Stadler Rail enters a contract with the state, it will be able to earn a portion of the total tax credit rebate each year that it meets the criteria of the contract.”
Why would Stadler put a manufacturing plant in Utah? It’s North American customers are in New Jersey (New Jersey Transit), Austin Texas, Denton Texas, and Fort Worth Texas. It’s North American HQ is in aforementioned New Jersey. If it’s other customers are in Texas, why here? Why Utah? Because the next big rail project in North America will likely be up Little CottonWood Canyon.
So you put that all together and you get that the Mountain Accord is now funded by GOED, whose purpose is to increase economic activity, who has been courting Stadler Rail to build a manufacturing plant here, has succeeded in getting a temporary manufacturing plant built, wants a permanent plant here, and will likely need a train up Little Cottonwood Canyon to get it.
I think that would be the definition of conflict of interest… Is a train the most environmental way to go? Is a bus better? What damage to the canyon will take place to put in track? What animals habitats will be destroyed? How many more visitors will trample our mountains? No matter what the right thing to do is… we have to have a train up the canyon to get a new manufacturing plant here. I wonder if the environmental groups who flipped and supported the Mountain Accord are happy now. It appears the train is coming boys. I hope you got everything you wanted out of the Faustian bargain…’cause it appears there is no stopping it now.