Tension erupts between House speaker, SLC mayor over Operation Rio Grande

KUTV Greg Hughes vs Mayor 082917.JPG
Tension erupts between House speaker, SLC mayor over Operation Rio Grande (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) Emotions flared Tuesday between some of the biggest players behind the push to clean up Salt Lake City's troubled Rio Grande district.

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes accused Mayor Jackie Biskupski of "working against us" in the task of restoring order to that part of downtown.

Plans call for the north end of Rio Grande Street to be cordoned off as a safe space for the homeless. Hughes said that needs to happen as soon as possible but that Biskupski first needs to close the street.

"She's unwilling to do that," Hughes told 2News Tuesday afternoon, "and I think that comes at a cost."

Biskupski responded, saying she does support closing the road but wants to follow a public process over three weeks. State lawmakers would then seal the deal during a special session September 20.

"I'm kind of blind-sided by what's happening," Biskupski said of Hughes' criticism. "I thought we were all on the same page."

But Hughes wants the road closed much sooner than that, and so do others.

"I can't understand why we'd want to wait another three weeks," said Nicole Thomas, owner of Gateway Bridal and Prom near Pioneer Park. "To stop or delay that momentum, I think, would be silly."

Tuesday afternoon, leaders met at a Salt Lake City Council work session to discuss their efforts -- including how much money it will cost. Operation Rio Grande is expected to last two years and cost $67 million.

Hughes said Salt Lake City is expected to pay $10 million of that amount, and he accused Biskupski of opposing that as well.

When asked whether she supports that number, Biskupski didn't answer directly.

"All budget processes need to go through the city council," the mayor said. "I have found some of that money in our budget but not all of it."

Despite the public spat between him and the mayor, the House speaker said he believed leaders would move beyond it.

"We're going to move forward in this operation," Hughes said. "People's lives are at stake."