Don Gale: Inland port shows the Utah Legislature at its worst

The inland port is a bad idea. A terrible idea.

It will bring additional dangerous air pollution, stir more antagonism between the state and the capital city and add more economic favoritism for a select few. It is yet another one-sided mistake from our dangerously unbalanced Legislature.

It follows the pattern of the state prison disaster. That legislative mistake will cost taxpayers $1 billion before it is completed; we will end up with fewer beds than we have at the old prison; and operating costs will exceed current costs, partly because fewer beds at the new prison will force the state to shift even more prisoners to county jails, where costs are excessive, conditions are often marginal, and rehabilitation is neglected.

The whole idea of an inland port revolves around transportation — adding more cars, trucks, trains and planes. All are major sources of air pollution. We don’t need more pollution along the Wasatch Front; we need less, according to every meaningful scientific study. Bad air is killing our neighbors and harming our children. It makes no sense to add more dirt to our air when there is no good reason for doing so.

And make no mistake about it: Some of the votes for the inland port came from legislators who simply wanted to punish those liberal people who live in Salt Lake City. The inland port plan appropriates about one-third of the city’s land area for use by the state-run port facility.

It also steals from the city most of whatever tax revenue might be generated by the port. That will leave Salt Lake City with responsibility for building and maintaining access roads, water supply, public safety services and perhaps even schools — with little new tax revenue to pay for them.

In all likelihood, some of the votes also came from sincere but misguided lawmakers. They fantasize that an inland port will help Utah’s faltering coal industry. They see the inland port as a way to increase distribution of coal to domestic users, to seaports for shipment to foreign nations and even by air to a few distant facilities making the transition from coal to cleaner fuels. Imagine trainloads of coal arriving in the Salt Lake Valley for redistribution to a variety of destinations. It’s a nightmare scenario.

Proponents of the inland port believe the operation will provide thousands of new jobs. That may be true, but most of those jobs will be jobs the sons and daughters of legislators would never take, any more than would the sons and daughters of most Utah families. The port will require us to import hard-working men and women from Mexico, Central America and other locations.

We welcome immigrants. They strengthen the state. However, when we expect immigrant workers to do what we will not do ourselves, it becomes exploitation. We pay them too little, work them too much and force them to live in fear for themselves and their families as they dare not complain about the exploitation.

In the meantime, a few select Utahns — including, perhaps, one or two legislators — will add to their fortunes through business or real estate deals with the inland port.

And the reality is we don’t need more minimum wage jobs in the Salt Lake area. However, we need all kinds of jobs in rural Utah. The Legislature should focus on bringing economic development to rural Utah instead of bringing serious and unnecessary problems to metropolitan centers.

The inland port is a bad idea, a legislative mistake. Whatever it takes to forestall or delay the port is well worth the effort.

Don Gale

Don Gale spent 70-plus years watching Utah advance toward maturity and success. He believes the inland port is a shift into reverse.