Brian Moench: Inland Port Authority’s plane crash landing on you

UPHE’s co-founder and board president, Dr. Brian Moench, had the following op-ed published in the Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 10, 2023.

Ronald Reagan said, “What I want to see above all is that this country remains a country where someone can always get rich.” Reagan’s ethos of exalting wealth “above all” has been fully embraced by Utah’s Legislature.

Rest assured, those “someones’’ our Legislature is helping get rich are not you or me. In fact, they are using your tax money to help only a tiny handful of “someones” get rich — Utah’s corporate developers: Boyer, Gardner, Colmena, Romney, et al. — by inviting them to feed at the public trough, at the expense of our wallets, our democracy, health, environment and quality of life.

In 2018, the Utah Inland Port Authority (UIPA) was given birth by the Legislature’s power brokers in the shadows and chaos of the waning hours of the session. The end result was a punitive and hostile takeover of Salt Lake City’s land and authority, and a dodging of public scrutiny and accountability. UIPA cheerleaders proclaimed their brilliant business plan was, “We’re building the plane as we’re flying it.” But when the curtain was pulled back, that “plane” didn’t have wings, an engine, or a pilot, and never left the runway. It was just another iteration of corporate welfare and trickle down economics.

Construction on the Northwest Quadrant Inland Port area.

Ports in other states are nicknamed “diesel death zones,” because thousands of diesel trucks spew exhaust over them daily. Likewise, pollution, not a celestial economy, is destined to be UIPA’s legacy. The promise of becoming a “jobs bonanza” has crash landed into the reality of what is going on at these other diesel death zones. Most of the jobs are low paying warehouse fulfillment jobs with no benefits, and even those will soon evaporate with the inevitable arrival of robotics and automation.

UIPA’s multi-layered squandering of tax-payer money was revealed in a state audit. An actual logistics expert showed that the business model was even worse than trickle down, it was at its core, nonviable. UIPA’s director “retired” and the board was replaced. It’s fair to say that the port was driven out of the Salt Lake Valley by its opponents, common sense, and UIPA’s incompetence and hubris.

But rather than admit the mistake, the “new, improved” UIPA, searching for less organized opposition, decided to break up this plane wreck into smaller pieces, and like metastatic cancer (cancer is more than a metaphor here, given that air pollution causes virtually every type of cancer), spread it among communities up and down the Wasatch Front and the rest of the state — to Tooele, Grantsville, Brigham City, Nephi, Spanish Fork, Tremonton, Milford, West Valley City, Cedar City, and on and on. Every cul-de-sac in the state can get a port, if they act now!

Interactive map of Utah Inland Port “project areas” and their proximity to wetlands

UIPA claims ports will be good for our air quality. Seriously? The whole premise behind them is a lot more products will be imported and exported, and whether via trains or trucks, that means a lot more diesel pollution. If more trains and trucks are good for air quality somewhere, it’s not on planet Earth. UIPA claims these project areas are what communities have asked for. Hardly. It’s what developers have conned them into so they can reap taxpayer subsidies for building warehouse megafarms.

UIPA is aggressively selling its scheme to rural communities, boasting that “project areas” will “fast track growth in your communities.” And that “growth” will also fast track traffic congestion, air, noise, water, and light pollution, open space destruction, more water demand, and a degraded quality of life — exactly what most Utahns don’t want wherever they live.

Moreover, many of them impinge on Great Salt Lake (GSL) and Utah Lake wetlands. While virtually the entire country has heard of the imperative of saving the GSL and its ecosystem, UIPA is turning GSL’s wetlands into asphalt and mega warehouses, hastening its demise. Regardless of what is the final composition of these giant new industrial zones, they will all increase water demand, exactly what the lake and Utah can’t afford.

Great Salt Lake wetlands are vital to the ecosystem and air quality in Utah.

UIPA has morphed into an autocratic monarchy. They are squeezing out public input in every possible way, because we are challenging their incompetence, their value system, their ethics, and their attack on our environment, health and quality of life.