Terry Marasco: Inland port management promises better planning

Port leadership needs to turn away from a ‘diesel nightmare.’

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ben Hart, Utah Inland Port Authority's new executive director is pictured on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.

I attended the Utah Inland Port Authority public meeting at the West Valley Hunter Library on November 30. West Valley is partly in the port’s jurisdiction. The presenters were Ben Hart, port authority executive director, and Abby Osborne, Utah House chief of staff and a member of the port authority board.

I was extremely skeptical that such a project would work, as a diesel truck/warehouse project would significantly degrade Salt Lake City’s west side. Salt Lake’s west side is the most polluted community in the state, eviscerated by three interstate highways (I-15, I-80 and I-215), the expanding Bingham Canyon mine, five oil refineries, heavy rail, the airport and a gravel mine.

Some years ago I stated to a legislative committee friendly to the inland port concept that “We killed larger projects than this.” The killed project was the Las Vegas pipeline, which proposed to drain the Snake Valley in Nevada. The aquifer that valley moves water from Nevada through Utah and contributes 30,000-acre feet of water to the Great Salt Lake.

Hart came from the Utah Office of Economic Opportunity to reset the port when the former executive director moved on. Community groups raised dire warnings about the polluting effects of heavy diesel trucking on health issues in nearby communities.

A major criticism was the contracts engaged by the former executive director, which had little or no public scrutiny and were awarded without bids. Osborne stated that now we have the strictest procurement policy in the state. All contracts were rescinded and may or may not be reinstated.

Hart alluded to a business plan which will be presented to the Inland Port Authority Board in December. These statements were made by Hart and Osborne regarding this plan when responding to the audience: “We don’t want to end up with a logistics nightmare on the west side. “We will avoid the diesel nightmare.” “Seeks to develop well-paying jobs for the communities; jobs to keep our kids here.” “Will be environmentally sound.” “It is being developed but we know what we don’t want.” “We have incorporated some of the STPP (Stop the Polluting Port) ideas.”

Hart and I have agreed that the valley is overbuilt with warehouses and this path is not a viable option the port.

Noting the trend to bring manufacturing businesses back to the U.S., Osborne said the port would include developing logistics infrastructure to provide businesses that are coming back to U.S. She said there is a possibility to seek a defense microchip manufacturer, as these should not be produced outside of the U.S.

The caution here is our stressed water supply. Semiconductor plants may use upwards of 10 million gallons of water a day, equivalent to the water consumption of roughly 300,000 households. It has been stated that Utah’s water supply may fall short for the growth expected in coming years.

Hart toured the area’s wetlands with Ella Sorenson, who has worked on land and water acquisition, planning, and restoration for Gillmor Sanctuary on Great Salt Lake since 1992. He stated that it is important to sustain the wetlands and create a buffer for the Great Salt Lake.

The audience commented vociferously on fast growth: “You are expanding the economy and we are running out of water.” “We are running out of water, traffic is unbearable, housing prices out of reach.” “How do we counter fast growth as we are running out of water, valley (air) is highly polluted?” The facilitator suggested that the board take on a member that balances the growth issue with development. One action that would balance the board is to convert Victoria Petro-Eschler (Salt Lake City Council District 1) from a non-voting member to a voting member.

Water constraints and far too often dangerously unhealthy air quality make the prospects look slim. But my Italian radar tells me that Hart is sincere about making this project as close to net polluting and water conscious as possible.

However, the Utah Legislature has great influence on this project (three of the five board members are engaged with the Legislature), the Legislature is of a development mentality and influenced where the project was headed under the former executive director. The Legislature’s sincerity about water issues is questionable as it gave the Utah Division of Water Resources approval to spend up to $5 million annually on turf removal incentives, but the bill didn’t appropriate money to do it.

As Hart and the Inland Port Authority Board seek to change course from the former “diesel nightmare,” surrounding communities and activist groups will be watching closely. It is easier to say you will do something than to actually do it.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Terry Marasco, Feb. 23, 2019.

Terry Marasco, Salt Lake City, is a community activist, retired businessman and sometime substitute teacher.