By Brice Wallace 

The Utah Inland Port Authority board last week approved a five-year strategic business plan but also listened to speaker after speaker from the public pick it apart.

The plan outlines goals and strategies for port authority partnerships, policies and programs related to the planned transportation, warehouse, shipping and logistics center near the Salt Lake City International Airport.

“It is a strategic plan that is solid,” said Jack C. Hedge, executive director of UIPA. “It lays out a very strong, definitive path forward. It gives us guiderails and guidelines by which to make decisions, by which to create policies and programs, and the benchmark to measure our production and our deliverables against.”

Hedge noted that the plan will continue to evolve and already had incorporate tweaks suggested by stakeholders over the past few weeks. He described the plan as “not the end of the road” but instead “the first step on the path.”

“It gives us that unique positioning of Utah in the global supply chain, in the North American logistics network, that really is our differentiator and really does give us great opportunities for development in the future,” he said.

He reiterated the plan to make the port “green” by incorporating a variety of sustainability elements.

“It is my intention that I will lead this organization to be the most sustainable port of its kind in the world. … We are committed to both protecting the environment that we live in and becoming an economic and logistics powerhouse, and those two things are not mutually exclusive,” Hedge said.

But people listening and watching via Zoom were not buying it. Their concerns ranged from public health to global warming, from damage to bird refuges to increased traffic congestion, from poorer air quality to other quality-of-life issues. Comments included references to “this polluting nightmare,” “your private boondoggle” and “a sham process.”

Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said some people were concerned from the beginning that the port will facilitate the extraction of fossil fuels in Utah. “Nothing has changed to make us less concerned that that is part of the equation,” he said last week.

“From a business perspective,” Mary Paul said, “I’m shocked we’re moving forward with investing in infrastructure to support dying industries” such as fossil fuel extraction. “So this hardly feels like an investment in Utah’s future but rather a desperate attempt to glean the remnants of what once was.”

Tussy King said the port “will take away land use, with buildings galore, creating terrible traffic congestion and ruining our air quality.” She added that “we’re going to have pollution out the wazoo.” 

“I’ve lived here my entire life,” King said. “I find it absolutely astonishing that in what has always been a thriving economy, that Salt Lake City would need such a monstrosity to remain economically viable.”

Deeda Seed, a spokesperson for the Center for Biological Diversity and a leader of the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition, said the talk about environmental sustainability “is window dressing.”

Jay Griffith said his two main concerns are about air quality and transportation congestion. “The inland port will only make both of these worse,” he said. “There’s no possible way it cannot. There’s not an ocean port or inland port anywhere in the world that is clean or sustainable. I challenge you to show the public any.”

“It’s just a dirty, polluting port, no matter how you look at it,” added John Giles. “You cannot build a green port.”

Several other people criticized what they consider the plan’s vague language, the process leading up to the plan’s approval and a lack of transparency and lack of public participation in that process.

Heather Dove of Great Salt Lake Audubon said the board “has had a very pitiful excuse for a public engagement process,” ignoring public comments and criticisms. One example was the fact that the board approved the plan before hearing the public comments at the meeting.

“So, clearly you’re not listening and you’re not utilizing this information,” Dove said. “Your public engagement process is a sham and it’s insulting.”

“I legitimately don’t believe,” Kenan Ince said, “this board cares what I have to say or what the other citizens who have spoken have to say.”

Lee Stanhope said the plan was an aspirational document instead of being a “real” business plan.

“Why have you thrown away all credibility that you had as you continually promise to build a green port?” Stanhope asked. “Why should we as citizens and residents of Salt Lake consider you anything but liars who have wasted our time while continuing to plan an inland port that will destroy the air, water, soil and wetlands of the Salt Lake Valley; will compromise the health and shorten the lifespan of countless residents of this valley; and will enrich only the developers and builders?”

Roger Borgenicht said the plan does not address potential troubles the port could cause.

“The business plan,” he said, “is filled with vague language promoting sustainability, with words such as ‘promote,’ ‘support,’ ‘advocate,’ ‘advance,’ ‘encourage.’ These words have no teeth. No words of action or commitment, such as ‘development,’ ‘develop,’ ‘implement’ and ‘fund.’”

Patti Hobfoll said she would favor development that is move innovative “than just driving big ol’ trucks across the country.”

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sept. 16.

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