Interactive map shows location of inland port projects across Utah and their proximity to wetlands

What does Utah stand to gain and lose as wetlands and open space get paved over by port development?

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Weber County property slated for an inland port on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023.

Inland port projects keep emerging across Utah, and a lot of them include wetlands.

The Center for Biological Diversity created an interactive map showing the boundaries of approved and proposed industrial developments that are part of the Utah Inland Port Authority. It contains a layer showing wetland areas, which are especially common in the project areas proposed near the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake. But the Center isn’t just worried about wetlands, it has raised concerns that some of the ports might get used to export arid Utah’s water in the form of hay since they’re located near large alfalfa farms.

UIPA Executive Director Ben Hart said in a previous interview that so many of the inland port project areas include wetlands because railroads were historically built in wetland areas, and rail is an important part of the port developments.

Screen capture of a map created by the Center for Biological Diversity shows an inland port project area in Box Elder County, and a proposed project area in Weber County, along with their proximity to Great Salt Lake wetlands.

(Click to view and interact with the full map.)

Sites that UIPA and respective municipalities have approved to date include:

  • Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant, which encompasses 16,000 acres directly south of The Great Salt Lake;

  • Iron Springs, a 900-acre development site near Cedar City;

  • Verk Industrial Park, a 2,200-acre project area near Utah Lake and the Spanish Fork airport; and

  • Golden Spike, a project area with three disconnected sites encompassing about 1,500 acres in Box Elder County’s Tremonton, Garland and Brigham City.

These properties are outlined in red on the interactive map.

Sites other cities and counties have requested, but have yet to receive UIPA’s approval to become port projects, include:

These proposed projects are outlined in orange on the interactive map.

“It should be a big cause for concern,” Deeda Seed, senior Utah campaigner for the center, said. “Once you pave over these areas, they’re gone forever. And that’s what the port authority is subsidizing — the paving over of open space with industrial development.”

The port authority helps municipalities develop a budget and conduct an environmental review of their proposed sites, which includes a wetlands inventory. UIPA also collects a portion of the new property taxes generated by development in the port areas, which it can use to lure certain businesses and incentivize environmental protection, although it has no enforcement authority.

Seed said she’s particularly worried the Golden Spike and Six County Agri-Park port projects are a front for exporting alfalfa. The project site in Box Elder County includes Bailey Farms, a prolific Utah-based shipper of hay.

“It’s unfortunate we’ve got a group of people who are trying to villanize and maybe even criminalize rural ranching,” Hart said in an interview last month. “I think the opinion of a lot of these groups has caused a lot of anger and trauma and stress among rural farmers.”

Seed, however, denied groups like the Center for Biological Diversity and the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition were “anti-farmer.”

“In fact, in the Spanish Fork area is where the science shows the land there is perfect for agricultural use, and the best place to farm in Utah,” Seed said. “We’re really concerned those agricultural lands are preserved.”

The UIPA board will hold its next hearing about a proposed port area, the Six County Agri-Park, on Sept. 21.