Jonny Vasic: Port Authority spends $850,000 for a fairy tale of a plan

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) In this Aug. 22, 2018, photo, trucks travel along a loading dock at the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif. Between them, the California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach account for a large amount of the seaborne goods that the United States imports from China, and the prospect of a widening trade war between the global giants has port executives and longshoremen worried.

In the newly released strategic business plan by the Utah Inland Port Authority (UIPA) the consultants who were paid $850,000 to write the plan use nice words like, “sustainable,” “smart technologies,” “clean technologies,” “renewable energy,” “enhance community livability,” but the plan is nearly void of any specifics.

The report states “Property tax differential is levied on the difference between current land values and improvements made upon the land to increase its value. The use of tax differential to advance desired activities and outcomes is the primary tool of the UIPA.”

The idea that the Port Authority can use tax differential, i.e. giving away our tax dollars to force companies into building a green port, is a fairy tale. There is no standard for this or plan in the plan. Indeed, tax giveaways are really their only tool.

The authority’s primary mandate is economic growth, but at what cost? We often here the bogus argument that building is happening anyway and so we want to make sure it’s done right. If it’s happening anyway, why do you need to give our tax dollars away to multinational companies? Why did you need to annex a large part of Salt Lake City?

There is no such thing as a clean port anywhere in the world. They all pollute. They all add to poor air quality. The technology just doesn’t exist yet for a port to be emissions free, no matter how many words they use like “advanced new technologies."

Just look at the inland port in Elwood, Ill., where many of the same promises were made and now the community is seriously regretting the development. It has destroyed their community with massive traffic, air pollution, low-paying jobs and increased crime.

UIPA Director Jack Hedge came from the Port of Los Angeles, where they are now going through a $14 billion mitigation of the environmental disaster the port created. Be prepared for the exact same thing in Utah.

This plan doesn’t answer any of the critical questions that need to be addressed.

  • What will the UIPS do to ensure that the Wasatch Front air quality doesn’t get worse?

  • How will the profoundly negative impacts that have plagued other inland ports be prevented in this one?

  • How will the impact on wildlife be minimized?

  • How will the mosquitoes that live there now be dealt with? Will this result in widespread pesticide spraying?

  • How will the stormwater runoff be handled and the contamination of the Great Salt Lake be prevented?

  • How much water will the project require and where will it come from?

For people living along the Wasatch Front, poll after poll shows our air quality, or lack of it, is our number one concern. We know it makes us sick and shortens our lives. We have been out of compliance with the Federal Clean Air act for years because of our high levels of 24-hour PM 2.5 and we are also struggling with our ozone levels.

Now the unelected 11-member board of UIPA wants us to believe that they can super-charge the economy without it costing us our environment, our air quality, our health and our lives.

It’s time for clean air to become the priority and not development. This plan must be stopped in its tracks until all these questions and concerns are addressed. Hedge says “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

The problem is this once in a life time opportunity will destroy our way of life along the Wasatch Front if the Utah Inland Port continues down this unstainable path.

Jonny Vasic

Jonny Vasic grew up in Salt Lake City and is the executive director for Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, working on air quality issues in Utah.