As Utah state lawmakers prepare to consider a slate of legislation related to the inland port, a massive development planned for Salt Lake City’s northwest area, a group of around 100 clean-air and environmental activists braved heavy snowstorms Monday to protest the project.
During the hourlong rally at the state Capitol, opponents held signs, sang songs and reiterated the concerns they’ve had for nearly two years about the trading hub — that it will increase traffic and emissions, worsen the area’s air and water quality and endanger the fragile ecosystem near the Great Salt Lake.
“These facts have been repeated at every port authority board meeting, press conference, City Council meeting, protest and rally dealing with the proposed polluting port,” said Georgie Corkery, membership and outreach coordinator with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “I am sad that we are here again today because it means that these facts are being blatantly ignored.”
But while the protest offered yet another venue for the group to elevate these concerns, it also represented a new chapter for the Stop the Polluting Port coalition, which is entering this year’s state legislative session with a growing number of opponents and the organizational capacity to lobby against the project each week.
As the group ramps up its campaign to persuade lawmakers to “repeal the port,” members at Monday’s rally used the opportunity to hand out yard signs, bumper stickers and postcards carrying that message on them. The coalition is also starting to ask for donations for the first time, which it says will be necessary to examine the business plan the Inland Port Authority Board is expected to release sometime this spring.
Salt Lake City Councilman Dan Dugan, who ran for that office on an anti-inland port platform and unseated an incumbent in last fall’s election, was among the first donors. He gave $1,000 to the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment to aid its anti-port efforts and earned a large round of applause for his donation at the rally.
During the protest, port opponents carried signs with messages like “Break free from fossil fuels” and “Wetlands or industry? The right choice is clear to see.”
Speakers represented a range of backgrounds, from health professionals to faith leaders like Holladay United Church of Christ Rev. Shesh Tipton to Rowland Hall High School junior Sophie Dau. The rally even featured an anti-port song written and performed by The Slickrock Stranger, a singer-songwriter whose songs have a social justice bent.
Dau, 16, spoke about climate change and her fear that the growth and construction associated with the port will exacerbate those impacts on the community she’ll inherit.
“As a teenager, I can’t vote, but I believe that my friends and I deserve a say in our future and I think I speak for all of us when I say we’d rather repeal the port and lose an opportunity for minor growth so we can actually have a future,” she said.
The 11-member Utah Inland Port Authority Board, which is in charge of overseeing development of private land in the project area, has pitched the port as the state’s largest-ever economic development endeavor, with the potential to create a number of high-paying jobs. Board members have also promised that the board will incentivize environmentally sustainable development in the area with the best green technology available.
State lawmakers are expected to consider a bill, for example, that has not yet been released to the public but would give cities back a measure of their land use authority within the boundaries of the project area and codify the state’s commitment to sustainable development — a message to both port opponents and developers that they’re serious about those promises.
“If you’re a manufacturing company, if you’re producing products and you want to be at the best place where you can shorten your supply chains and do that in a place where you can meet all of your sustainability goals as a business, this is the place to be,” Jack Hedge, inland port authority executive director, told The Tribune in an earlier interview.
State lawmakers are also expected to consider legislation from Sen. Jake Anderegg calling for the development of a statewide rail plan that would take the inland port into consideration.
“And, how do we do it in a sustainable way? Specifically, how do we do it in a way that gets us away from diesel,” he told reporters Monday.
Integrating the inland port could mean double-tracking and electrifying rail lines around the northwest quadrant, said Anderegg, who said he’s been discussing his proposal with Hedge.
Anderegg, R-Lehi, said setting forth a comprehensive rail plan will prevent “management by fire extinguisher,” in which officials are dealing with isolated problems without taking a more systemic look.
“If we’re going to build this inland port, if we’re going to expand this across the Wasatch Front, it’s got to be the inland port, the rail infrastructure service of the 21st century,” Anderegg said, estimating that the study could take 24 months to complete and cost about $1.5 million.
Whatever the legislation, port opponents said they plan to be there in force to oppose the project and to convince as many lawmakers as they can to do so as well.
Their chants Monday echoed again and again throughout the Capitol like a promise: “We’re not going to stop until they repeal the port!"
Salt Lake Tribune reporter Bethany Rodgers contributed to this report