Ports spreading across the state are pollution nightmares

A lot has transpired concerning the Utah Inland Port lately, particularly various “satellite ports” now called project areas popping up across the state. 

Watch the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition’s recent press conference below.

What is the Port?

The Utah Inland Port was initially conceived as a commercial trade hub in Salt Lake City, with the expressed goal to enhance trade and create economic opportunities. However, recent discussions have revolved around the possibility of expanding the port statewide, including the establishment of satellite ports in other locations, like Spanish Fork, Tooele, Cedar City, and other areas.

According to a draft plan, the proposed Spanish Fork project envisions a 2,200-acre industrial park with approximately 10 million square feet of new industrial facilities. The proposed area for the plot is only about 2 miles from Utah Lake and through an already congested area of I-15.

The Port’s messaging 

A repeated “benefit” of the Port has been economic growth and creation of high paying jobs. Utah has an exceptionally low unemployment rate already though, and warehouse jobs are not the ideal economic opportunity for most folks. 81 percent of new hires and 63 percent of all workers in warehouses are temporary employees.  One in five warehouse workers have been hurt on the job, and a third of them did not report their injury for fear of being punished or fired. A third of those who did report an injury said they suffered retaliation.

Ben Hart, executive director of the Utah Inland Port Authority, explained to KUER that the goal is to create economic diversity across the state by developing more locations for trade. He claimed in his interview on RadioACTive on KRCL the ‘project areas’ would actually reduce truck traffic and pollution in Salt Lake City. Essentially transferring this issue (created by the Port) out to other areas in the state. 

The problem with the Ports 

UPHE has been raising concerns along with other environmental groups and residents who oppose the expansion plans. Residents gathered before the May 11 board meeting last week and expressed their disapproval through signs and slogans calling for an end to polluting ports and the repeal of the port project areas. 

Brian Moench, president of UPHE, criticized the port authority’s claims at the rally, “Stung by the public’s concern about air pollution from the port, the port authority started telling the story that the port would clean up Salt Lake City’s air by replacing diesel trucks with trains. It wasn’t true then, it’s not true now. And it still won’t be true if the port gets spread out all over the state. There’s not a city anywhere in this country where a port has brought them cleaner air. It’s always the exact opposite.”

UPHE’s Dr. Brian Moench speaking at the STPP press conference.

The protest focused on the proposed Spanish Fork Inland Port, with concerns regarding pollution and its effects on Utah Lake. The protestors argued that inland ports can lead to increased air, water, noise, and light pollution, which negatively affect both human health and wildlife.

Transparency and use of public funds 

Transparency has been a major issue since conception of the Utah Inland Port and remains prevalent as these project areas begin to pop up. Residents are given little to no notice or opportunity to comment on plans. Public comment was limited to 15 minutes at the Inland Port Authority Board’s last meeting on the Spanish Fork area. 

When the Salt Lake City port was approved, the Authority was awarded a $150 million taxpayer backed bond. Salt Lake City has no voting representation on UIPA’s board. The recently approved Cedar City Port provides unnecessary tax breaks (up to $83 million) to private company port developers, Savage Services, and Commerce Crossroads. Savage Services primarily transports fossil fuels and alfalfa, two of our leading concerns of climate change in Utah. 

Where is the Port spreading?

A Salt Lake Tribune article reported nine known local governments formally engaged in port projects to date.

  • Washington County passed a resolution to create a port in September 2022 but does not appear to have taken any additional action or selected a specific location.
  • Iron County adopted its port resolution in February for the 900-acre Iron Springs Inland Port north of Cedar City, and the port authority approved its plans last month. BZI Steel appears on track to receive a $10 million loan from the port authority to build a private transloading facility.
  • Tooele County approved a resolution for a 140-acre port project area on April 12 that’s partly owned and lobbied for by developers Zenith Bolinder. The site is located just south of the Great Salt Lake at the Burmester exit of Interstate 80.
  • Beaver County passed a resolution for a port project area on April 18 but does not appear to have taken any additional action or selected a specific location.
  • The City of Spanish Fork approved a resolution for a 2,299-acre project area surrounding its airport on May 2. The port authority board is considering a draft project plan and budget for the site Thursday.
  • The City of Tremonton also adopted a resolution on May 2 to create a port project area. The site will be near 1000 North and east of Interstate 15, according to City Manager Shawn Warnke.
  • Brigham City voted in favor of a resolution on May 4 to create a port project area. The City Council did not specify a location in their public meeting.
  • Box Elder County’s commission approved a resolution for a port project on May 4, but also does not appear to have taken any additional action or selected a specific location. It also appears to be separate from the projects in Tremonton or Brigham City.
  • Juab County commissioners unanimously voted in favor of a port project resolution on May 8, Hart confirmed.

KUER’s coverage of the STPP press conference.

Listen to Ben Hart, UIPA executive director, and STPP members on KRCL’s RadioACTive.

Read the Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage of recent UIPA expansion efforts.