This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Another twist is emerging related to a controversial trip to Switzerland by several current and former Utah Transit Authority officials.
Newly released documents show that UTA sought and received federal permission to waive competitive bidding requirements to lease space in a locomotive-repair facility, only to reverse itself and open it up to bids, including one by Stadler Rail.
The Swiss rail-car manufacturer is being recruited by state economic-development leaders to move some operations to Utah, and officials visited with Stadler leaders repeatedly during the controversial trip in September.
The changes by UTA allowed Stadler to bid for use of extra space at UTA's large Warm Springs facility, now used to maintain FrontRunner locomotives, according to UTA documents obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through an open-records request.
They show that UTA once planned to allow another company, Wabtec a different rail-car manufacturer that now maintains UTA locomotives to lease the space through a "sole-source" contract to fix locomotives there for others.
UTA told federal officials that it would be impossible to allow any other company to share the building already used by it and Wabtec. But it later changed its mind when Stadler expressed interest.
No bid • In a Nov. 5, 2014, letter to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), UTA chief capital development officer Steve Meyer sought federal permission for a sole-source contract with Wabtec.
"Because Wabtec currently occupies some of the Warm Springs facility in connection with its maintenance of UTA locomotives, UTA does not consider it feasible to lease the excess space to any party other than Wabtec," Meyer wrote.
He said any lease would be for short duration, with no more than one-year terms, "to ensure UTA can utilize the leased space for its own uses when it needs to." But after Stadler entered the picture, five-year terms would be considered.
UTA needed FTA permission for a lease for outside use because federal money was used to remodel the Warm Springs Facility. Meyer noted that Wabtec proposed leasing the extra space "to service non-UTA locomotives."
On Nov. 21, 2014, the FTA approved UTA's sole-source request.
Bidding begins • But this year, UTA reversed those earlier claims.
Reasons are explained in an Oct. 9 letter by acting UTA CEO Jerry Benson to the FTA. He wrote that while UTA was negotiating a lease with Wabtec, "UTA was made aware of another entity Stadler Rail that had an interest in possibly using some of the Warm Springs space."
He added, "Because two entities have expressed interest, UTA decided to use a competitive procurement process to select a tenant or tenants," with leases for up to five years.
Linda Gehrke, regional FTA administrator, raised questions in an email about UTA's earlier claims.
"FTA's basis for agreeing to the first lease that was a sole-source procurement was that it was justified on the basis of the fact that the lease would be to their own contractor who already had access to the building and security would not be an issue of concern. We understood they could not let outside businesses in for security reasons," she wrote.
Gehrke asked how UTA would overcome those concerns. Benson responded that the request for proposals for the extra space "includes strong security and safety requirements, requiring that any proposer have all employees and others that will access the Warm Springs facility undergo a background check and be issued an access card."
Improper meeting • Those October communications came amid internal controversy over the trip to Switzerland in September by a group that included two UTA board members, some UTA lobbyists, former UTA board Chairman Greg Hughes (the current House speaker), some legislators and a state business recruiter.
The two UTA board members Vice Chairman Chris Bleak and Sheldon Killpack participated in meetings with Stadler leaders, documents said. UTA has said it did not know beforehand about the trip by those officials.
Discovery of the meetings led UTA to cancel its request for proposals to share space at Warm Springs that had begun earlier in September because, documents said, UTA "observed problems that may have restricted full and open competition."
UTA's Benson wrote to Gehrke at the FTA in October, saying, "The two board members that traveled to Switzerland have met with the board chair regarding the inappropriate contact with Stadler during the open procurement."
He added, "Those board members will not be part of the selection process and will be excluded from any discussions regarding any Warm Springs lease." With that step, UTA reopened the competition for space at Warm Springs which is ongoing.
UTA declined to answer Tribune questions about the situation. "By law, UTA cannot discuss the details of an open procurement," UTA spokesman Remi Barron said. "For this reason, we can't discuss details of the possible leasing of part of the Warm Springs facility."
Documents show that leasing could cost UTA up to $450,000 to vacate some spaces now used, and it could increase UTA's operational costs by $25,000 a year. How well a lease could cover those costs is among formal criteria to be used in judging proposals.
Recruiting • Meanwhile, the Governor's Office of Economic Development is expected to discuss on Thursday possible incentives to bring Stadler to Utah.
Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, who was on the Switzerland trip and had worked to help recruit Stadler since June 2014, said he heard no discussions of the Warm Springs facility or leasing bids during the trip.
"Stadler Rail is a good company, and they were looking at multiple locations here in the United States. When they were looking in Utah, they were looking at multiple places including at Warm Springs. So I don't know that there was anything magical about Warm Springs," he said.
He adds that he has helped recruit several Swiss companies because he has relatives in Switzerland who have opened doors for him and other Utah officials. He said the main purpose of the trip in September was to meet with companies being recruited, and officials also looked at mountain-rail facilities.
The trip has been controversial because it was privately funded, including through a political action committee bankrolled by UTA donors.
If UTA had paid for the trip, it would have become public before the Nov. 3 vote on Proposition 1, seeking to raise sales taxes for transportation. The travel was revealed after the election only by tips and records released in response to open-records requests.
In the wake of news reports on the trip, UTA announced Bleak's resignation and said two other board members would follow suit. Killpack, an appointee of Hughes, may yet resign. But board member Justin Allen, who had been considering stepping down, opted against it after talking with Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, who appointed him.
Allen was a co-founder with Bleak of the PAC helping to pay for the trip.
Meanwhile, UTA no longer is represented by two lobbyists who went to Switzerland.
The board members and others, including Hughes, all say the resignations are unrelated to the trip.