Urban Affairs

Changes to inland port authority act considered

The Urban Affairs Committee heard testimony Jan. 16 on a proposal to update a state law intended to coordinate development of large commercial and industrial projects in Nebraska.

Sen. Terrell McKinney
Sen. Terrell McKinney

The proposal, introduced by Omaha Sen. Terrell McKinney, is contained in an amendment that would replace the original contents of his LB164, which would have updated building and energy codes.

Under the Municipal Inland Port Authority Act, which the Legislature created in 2021, qualifying cities and counties may create an inland port authority — administered by an appointed governing board — with the power to plan and develop an inland port district. Up to five inland port districts may be designated throughout the state.

McKinney’s proposal would increase that number to seven and allow no more than one to be created in a metropolitan class city. Omaha currently is the state’s only metropolitan class city.

The amendment also would specify that the nine-member board of an inland port authority created by a metropolitan class city would include the mayor or the mayor’s designee, at least one member with experience in real estate development and at least one member with experience in large-scale residential commercial property rental.

McKinney said the changes would harmonize state law with action taken by the Omaha City Council to establish an inland port authority in North Omaha. He said the mechanism would ensure that state funding is used to serve the interests of residents rather than developers.

“We have one shot to get this right,” McKinney said.

Thomas Warren, chief of staff to Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, testified in support of the amendment, including a provision that would allow an inland port authority to facilitate partnerships between startups, research institutions and venture capitalists. He said the city has no position on the amendment’s funding provisions, however.

McKinney’s proposal would transfer interest earned from federal coronavirus relief funds as well as investment earnings from funds related to the Perkins County Canal Project and the construction of a new state prison to a new fund.

The Inland Port Authority Fund would be used by the Nebraska State Treasurer to provide grants to an inland port authority created within the boundaries of a metropolitan class city. Funds for this purpose currently are controlled by the state Department of Economic Development.

Jennifer Creager testified in support of the amendment on behalf of the Greater Omaha Chamber, saying some of the proposed changes are meant to address challenges faced by the Greater Fremont Development Council in implementing an inland port authority.

She said the creation of an inland port authority in North Omaha would be “an important component of future growth in that area of the city.”

No one testified in opposition to the amendment and the committee voted 6-1 to advance the proposal.

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