Kathleen Cahill: Utah inland port will degrade quality of life for the benefit of a few

There is a lot of money to be made. But the birds will be gone and the air will get worse.

(Ed Kosmicki | Special to The Tribune) Event organizer Deeda Seed decries the state's plan of an inland port at a news conference near a recently completed Amazon fufillment center Thursday, June 10, 2021. In the background is one of many huge distribution center under construction in the area. About three dozen people attended the conference listening to five speakers depsite gusty winds that elimated a banner the group hoped to display.

I was recently at a demonstration against the inland port, held outside one of Amazon’s vast warehouses on the west side. Over the sound of the trucks coming and going, I could just hear the faint cries of birds. They still live out that way. But not for long.

It was a demonstration where we had all the right ideas and legitimate concerns: about the destructive effects of the port on the environment of Salt Lake, the destructive effects of the port on the wildlife living out there, the destructive effects on our health caused by increased air pollution brought by more trucks and traffic in and out of Salt Lake, and in particular on the west side, which has always had to bear the negative consequences of the economic decisions made at the Capitol on the hill.

I know we had right and reason and science on our side. And I know we are going to lose. The port is being built, using taxpayer money, to benefit only a few of the wealthiest in our city. It is an insult to our quality of life.

But it doesn’t matter. The port will be built. Because most of us are so busy simply trying to raise our families and pay our bills that we barely have time to notice what is happening here, and because we don’t believe that the people who run our city and state would do anything which is so against our interests.

Surely these leaders know what they are doing. Surely the economic advantages which will flow into the city of Salt Lake and the state of Utah more than make up for the damages caused by the port.

Only a very few will realize these advantages. This is “progress” for the few against the rest of us. But we are in a strange artificial dream where we can’t, won’t, don’t want to believe that this port will destroy our quality of life. We want to believe what we’re told by the wise men who make these decisions about what happens here.

Where there is emptiness, wilderness and the cry of birds, there will be endless warehouses, and trucks coming and going, and a railroad. Money to be made. Lots of money. The birds will be gone. The air will get worse.

Birds and air quality have zero value to the men who are counting the advantages coming to them with this port, insisting that it will be “green.” What in the world do they mean by that? Even now, you can see what is coming, as trucks unload their cargo and the warehouses spread, that there is nothing “green” about the inland poort.

If you want to see what an inland port really is, drive to Phoenix, where the summer temperatures have risen so high that planes cannot take off, and water is disappearing. The men who are insisting on this inland port for Salt Lake keep saying that it will fill a need in the west. They ignore Phoenix, because they will prosper by this Salt Lake port.

Charles Dickens wrote novels about the human cost of industrialization in Victorian England. Who will write about the human cost of late stage capitalism in America in the 21st century? What kind of human story can be told about a barren landscape of enormous warehouses, offering employment to a small number, frequented mostly by trucks and trains. And the sound of loss and regret on the wind.

Kathleen Cahill

Kathleen Cahill, Salt Lake City, is a writer and playwright.