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Utah Inland Port critics detail concerns in new report

Port critics aim to use report to convince lawmakers to repeal port authority

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Deeda Seed cheers during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, where the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition released a report outlining the potential environmental harms from the proposed Utah Inland Port.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Days away from the start of the 2020 legislative session, Utah Inland Port opponents have a new tool in their arsenal to fight the large-scale development meant to maximize the state’s place in the global import and export economy.

Critics of the inland port released a 13-page report Wednesday to detail their opposition to the port, compiling the breadth of their concerns ranging from poor air quality stemming from increased emissions to catastrophic impacts on migratory bird habitat.

The aim, the activists said in a news conference at the Capitol, is to use the report to urge lawmakers to repeal legislation that created the Utah Inland Port Authority, the 11-member board given the power to oversee development in a swath of about 16,000 acres west of Salt Lake City International Airport.

“What’s at stake here is the health of Utahns,” said Deeda Seed, a campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity and a lead activist with the group Stop the Polluting Port. “What’s at stake here is whether or not we have a sustainable, healthy future in Utah.”

The report was authored by eight activists with expertise in areas ranging from urban planning to wildlife conservation to air quality. It outlines their concerns from every angle around the port, including impacts of expanded truck and rail traffic, how a concrete jungle of shipping containers would affect migratory bird populations and how increased emissions would disproportionately affect Salt Lake’s west side along with the Wasatch Front’s entire airshed.

“At only half of its potential development north of I-80, the port will generate 11,600 new truck trips, as well as 23,000 additional car trips, every day,” the report states, citing a 2016 analysis. “By way of comparison, the total number of daily vehicle trips on I-80 between downtown and the airport was about 42,000 in 2017. This traffic would not only affect I-80, but also I-15 and other streets serving the port area, including Bangerter Highway and 5600 West.”

The report’s authors and other activists called for a complete repeal of Utah Inland Port legislation, chiding legislators’ yearslong efforts to create the port authority as lacking transparency and responsiveness to public concerns.

“For two years we have been asking for answers to the hard questions of how wildlife and people of this valley are going to be protected from these harms if this project is allowed to go through,” said Heather Dove, president of Great Salt Lake Audubon. “There has been an utter lack of responsiveness. We have been offered nothing substantive. There has been a complete lack of info and a very disturbing lack of transparency.”

As the Utah Inland Port Authority has slowly gained traction since its 2018 creation, port authority officials have held a slew of public workshops to gather input on the project. Board meetings, which have been consistently disrupted as protesters aim to stop the project in its tracks, have been paused as the authority’s executive director, Jack Hedge, works to develop a strategic business plan, expected to be released this spring.

The port authority board has not yet solidified any plans for the port. To critics, who already distrust Utah leaders because of the rushed creation of the port authority, the lack of information has been frustrating.

“The public has repeatedly and unequivocally stated they choose no development over the prospect of low-paying warehouse jobs, suffocating air pollution and increased traffic,” Dove said. “We have received no satisfaction from the Inland Port Authority board.”

Dove said the Great Salt Lake is of “global importance” to millions of birds all across the world, and the proposed inland port is “situated in the worst possible location” directly in the flight path of some 10 million migratory birds that seek refuge in the Great Salt Lake annually.

“It is a shameful, unconscionable project that will desecrate and destroy thousands of acres of critical wildlife habitat,” Dove said.

“So we are asking,” she added, “for the sake of the birds and the sake of the people of the Salt Lake Valley who will suffer the environmental consequences, we ask the Legislature to repeal the inland port.”

Hedge in a statement issued Wednesday said he had not read the report, but “I can say what our intense focus has been, and that is work on a strategic business plan that will help us make data-driven decisions on how the Utah Inland Port Authority can improve environmental and economic outcomes.”

“We are coordinating with and using analytical methods consistent with state and local partners responsible for monitoring and forecasting things like travel demand, employment, air quality, water quality, habitat and noise impacts,” Hedge said.

Hedge also said port authority officials are using “national best practices” to look at “truck routes through GPS data logistics-dependent industry clusters around the state, international container import/export data, and collecting sample truck counts in the jurisdictional area.”

“This data gathering and technical analysis takes time. It’s robust and in-depth,” Hedge said. “It’s the standard we are holding ourselves to and any current or future partners to. I’m excited to share this work once it is ready later this quarter.”

Hedge has said he believes Utah can build a green “legacy” port, unlike any port in the U.S. Critics are skeptical.

“Well there aren’t any,” Seed said. “So, you know, how is it possible that we’re going to be the first?”

On Hedge’s comments that sustainability will be a part of the port’s development, Seed said “Talk is nice.

“What we want to see is tangible action to resolve the concerns,” she said, “and we have not seen that yet.”