Why does Utah have an Inland Port?
The recent rebranding of the Utah Inland Port Authority (UIPA) may seem like a fresh start, but it’s going to take a lot more than a new logo to prove their promise to commit to transparency and community improvement. UIPA promised a “dedication to sustainability, innovation, respect, accountability and collaboration to all Utahns” in a recent press conference, priorities we have not yet seen them make.
We continue to see limited opportunities for public input, last minute notice on approval and consideration of different project areas, and no representation for tax payers on projects funded with taxes.
UIPA Executive Director Ben Hart’s statement that their focus is not about building a port, but rather about building a statewide logistics system reveals UIPA’s flawed business plan, which Berkley logistics expert, Robert C. Leachman, broke down in a white paper last fall.
The reevaluation of the transloading plan and the debunking of the notion that an inland port would be viable in Utah should have been a wake-up call for the UIPA. Instead, it has stubbornly clung to its vision, despite the evidence suggesting otherwise.
UIPA is shifting focus away from the Salt Lake City port and, instead, moving to develop warehouse districts, manufacturing centers, rail infrastructure, and industrial zones across the state. The involvement of the UIPA in these projects seems primarily driven by its ability to fund and guide development, rather than a genuine commitment to community well-being.
UIPA’s funding, of course, comes from the taxpayers in the state. With Salt Lake City, we saw a $150 million taxpayer-backed bond used, with little to no public input considered, and no voting members representing the city’s interests.
UIPA’s enthusiasm for rail as a solution also seems misplaced. While rail may have been significant in Utah’s history, the state has since shifted its transportation preferences toward cars, trucks, and highways. The idea of attracting shippers to Utah’s inland port becomes less compelling when considering the added complexities and costs of handling freight over long distances.
The sustainability aspect touted by the UIPA is another point of contention. While UIPA claims that replacing trucks with trains will improve air quality, the reality may be far different. Introducing more transportation hubs and distribution centers will inevitably bring additional traffic and emissions to the state. There is no such thing as a green port.
The environmental impacts, particularly in rural areas where port projects are being considered, have not been fully assessed or understood. No environmental impact or human health risk assessment was ever done before beginning the Salt Lake City port. These developments encroach upon vital wetlands and contribute to the continued degradation of precious ecosystems.
UIPA’s rebranding may have given it a new look, but it has not addressed the fundamental issues surrounding its mission and agenda. Rather than masquerading as an economic development engine, the port authority should reevaluate its purpose and engage in a transparent and inclusive dialogue with communities and stakeholders.
“It’s not true now and it still won’t be true as the port gets spread out all over the state. There is not a city anywhere in this country where a port has brought them cleaner air. It’s always the exact opposite,” Dr. Brian Moench was quoted in a recent Tribune article.