New report details inland port’s potential harms

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Deeda Seed, of Stop the Polluting Port Coalition, center, is joined by representatives from environmental, conservation, and community groups that are part of the coalition as they release a major report outlining the potential environmental harms from the proposed Utah Inland Port during a press conference at the Utah Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.

Opponents of the Utah Inland Port, a large import and export trading hub planned for Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant, estimate the project could create about 11,600 new truck trips and 23,000 additional car trips every day — even at only half of its developable potential.

That number, included in a report released Wednesday outlining the potential harms of the future development, is based on estimates that each 2,000 square feet of warehouse space would generate about one truck trip per day.

“By way of comparison, the total number of daily vehicle trips on I-80 between downtown and the [Salt Lake City International] airport was about 42,000 in 2017,” the report states. “This traffic would not only affect I-80 but also I-15 and other streets serving the Port area, including Bangerter Highway and 5600 West.”

In the absence of information about the way the port will develop, the 13-page report — written and researched by members of the Stop the Polluting Port coalition — is meant to provide an interconnected look at the possible impacts of construction, traffic, pesticide use and more on the project location near the Great Salt Lake, a globally important ecosystem for migratory birds, and on the diverse west side communities nearest to the development.

“We have concerns about the transportation issues, the air quality issues, the impact to wetlands and bird species, the climate change implications and the environmental justice issues associated with this,” said Deeda Seed, a port opponent with the Campaign for Biological Diversity, during a news conference about the report on Wednesday. “The communities that are going to be most directly and immediately impacted are our most vulnerable communities already.”

The paper’s release comes just days before the start of the state legislative session, during which lawmakers are expected to consider a number of bills related to the distribution hub they created two years ago. Its main purpose is to “compel those in charge to research and address” questions about the potential risks and harms of the project “before the Port is developed any further," the report states.

The report poses many questions about the impacts of the development but is able to offer few answers in the absence of an in-the-works business plan that is expected to provide some clarity about how the area will develop.

In terms of traffic and transportation, for example, the coalition says decision-makers need to consider the cost to taxpayers of widening and upgrading roads to handle increased truck and car trips and the possible air quality and health consequences as a result of tailpipe emissions associated with those journeys.

“The questions that this report addresses should have been asked by the state Legislature before they even created the inland port,” said David Scheer, an architect and chairman of the Capitol Hill Neighborhood Action Group. “Once created, the port authority board should have asked these questions. You don’t have to be a scientist or any kind of specialist to imagine the port will have impacts."

Members of the 11-member Utah Inland Port Authority Board, in charge of overseeing development of private land in the project area, have pitched the port as the state’s largest-ever economic development endeavor, with the potential to create a number of high-paying jobs. They have also promised that the board will incentivize environmentally sustainable development in the area with the best green technology available.

Jack Hedge, executive director of the Utah Inland Port, said in a statement that he has not yet seen the report but said the board’s “intense focus” has been on creating a business plan “that will help us make data-driven decisions” on how the authority “can improve environmental and economic outcomes," which he expects to share later this spring.

“We are coordinating with and using analytical methods consistent with state and local partners responsible for monitoring and forecasting things like travel demand, employment, air quality, water quality, habitat, and noise impacts," he said in the statement. "Using national best practices, UIPA is also looking at truck routes through GPS data, logistics-dependent industry clusters around the state, international container import/export data, and collecting sample truck counts in the jurisdictional area.”

But the report questions those assurances, noting that even if some of the loading machinery is mechanical, a “successful” port would increase pollution from diesel powered trucks, trains and air cargo carrying various goods.

The Stop the Polluting Port coalition also calls into question the economic promises of the project, calling them “unproven” and pointing to several obstacles, including the absence of a second rail carrier necessary for competitive shipping rates and the state’s low unemployment rate.

In several other U.S. inland ports, “promised high-quality jobs have failed to materialize,” the report states. “Instead of well-paid industrial jobs, the positions have been largely in warehouses, many of which do not pay a living wage and are vulnerable to being made obsolete by automation.”

Members of Stop the Polluting Port, which is made up of a number of community organizations and Salt Lake City community councils, called during their press conference for the Legislature to repeal the bill creating the inland port board or at the least for the decision makers to provide responses to their many concerns.

The group also urged continued community action and protests around the issue, which the report says are “essential to saving the [Salt Lake] valley from the risks of the inland port.”

Coalition members ended their news conference on Capitol Hill with a promise: “We’re going to show up at every meeting," Seed said. "We’ll keep working.”

“We’re not going away,” she added.