Thomas Walker: Utah inland port will bring us more of the valley’s deadly air

Inland Port Authority Board members ignore the concerns of the community.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Poor air quality obscures the Oquirrh Mountains and downtown Salt Lake City, as seen from the University of Utah on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.

Tuesday, the Salt Lake Valley air was thick with smog. Mountain tops were visible, but below them was a sea of atmospheric particulate as visually disgusting as it is notoriously unhealthful.

Do people recall what happened to the valley’s air during the pandemic’s early lockdown? When driving came to a near standstill? It cleared, graphically demonstrating that vehicular traffic is a key factor in our smog problem.

Imagine now the certain effect of a conservatively estimated, incremental, 11,600 daily semi-truck trips, 23,000 daily automobile trips and an overlaying icing of diesel-powered train trips, on the valley’s air, not to mention traffic on our already congested roads. Is it possible to imagine such environmental loading of atmospheric poisons as a benign factor in terms of compromised citizen health and spoiled valley aesthetics? Should the inland port come to fruition as its promoters envision, today’s repellence would be remembered fondly as one of the better days.

Inland port promoters toss around purr words, like “green port,” as if saying such things makes it so. To be clear, there is no such thing as a “green” inland port. Under every known circumstance, inland ports are reliably filthy sources of noxious pollution measured in tons of effluviant. And these existing examples reside in environments not nearly as prone to accumulations of toxic atmospheric poisons as the Salt Lake Valley.

Now imagine the Salt Lake Valley so tragically polluted that families with asthmatic children must move away or subject their children to grotesquely, terrifyingly elevated risk of death. Or where erstwhile healthy children (and their parents, for that matter) become much less so.

Portions of the Inland Port Authority Board meetings are public and offer citizens an opportunity to express their opinions. It is a reasonable belief that board members dislike this interval due to the overwhelmingly disapproving content. People observing these episodes are bound to note that board members insulate themselves from the withering fallout, much of it expressed by health and environmental experts, by busying themselves with the welcome distractions their cell phones afford them. They offer no countervailing arguments but sit in stoic silence all the while. Lest there be fallout from an actual board member, the other members simply remove the apostate (see Community Council Board Chairwoman Dorothy Owen and former Westside Coalition leader Richard Holman, for example).

Despite the inland port’s board and promoters’ intransigence, together with their disinterest in monumental community harms, valley citizens en masse should take every opportunity to voice their alarm and displeasure with the development. Sadly, these board memberships are not elected positions – how inconvenient it would be for toadies championing the valley’s destruction to be something other than appointed roles.

Please, let’s not emulate the frog sitting in cool water put on to boil while it heats to lethality. This creeping noxiousness will not be reversible if we allow it to take root as planned. Let’s save ourselves, our children and our spouses. Be bold and uncompromising on this issue, or weep as our beautiful valley grows to resemble a superfund cleanup site.

Tom Walker

Thomas Walker is a native of Salt Lake City. After many years working in the hospitality industry, he went to work teaching skiing with Vail Resorts in Park City. He also is a board member of the Alta Historical Society.