Deeda Seed and Lynn de Freitas: Salt Lake City needs to protect the south shore of the Great Salt Lake

More water may help save the lake, but industrial development will never go away.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Controversy is brewing over a proposed warehouse in an agricultural district in Salt Lake City, with the neighborhood worrying they'll become another arm of the inland port.

Salt Lake City is poised to make a decision which will impact generations to come. Warehouse developers are putting tremendous pressure on Salt Lake City’s Northpoint community. Consisting of about 1100 acres, Northpoint is an area of open space, farmland, and 60 homes, to the north and east of the airport. It is also adjacent to some of the highest functioning wetlands on the shore of Great Salt Lake.

Everyone knows that Great Salt Lake is facing ecological collapse without more water. (And, no, this year’s snowpack doesn’t solve the long-term problem.) But what people may not know is that development pressure, particularly industrial development pressure, threatens the wetlands next to the lake. And while we can save the dying lake with more water, once industrial development occurs on undeveloped land, that land and the land adjacent to it, is forever altered.

The decision Salt Lake City faces is whether or not to adopt the draft Northpoint Small Area Master Plan, a plan which calls for the entire Northpoint area to be up-zoned to M1 – light manufacturing. Naturally the warehouse developers love this plan. They said as much at the recent Salt Lake City Council hearing on the matter. But the developers were vastly outnumbered at that hearing by community members concerned about the health and environmental consequences of another warehouse district in Salt Lake City. Remember, we already have the Utah Inland Port, which allows for up to 152 million square feet of new warehouse development.

The Salt Lake City Council could vote on this issue as soon as March 21. Instead of rushing forward to adopt the draft plan which would be a disaster for the south shore of Great Salt Lake, Salt Lake City and neighboring communities, the Salt Lake City Council and mayor need to scrap this draft plan and take a step back. The step back could consist of a 180-day moratorium on decisions about the future of the Northpoint area.

We need a comprehensive analysis of how to protect the south shore eco-region of the Great Salt Lake. This includes the Northpoint area, as well as the natural area and wetlands adjacent to the existing Utah Inland Port warehouse development, and the airport.

Salt Lake City can lead this effort in partnership with Salt Lake County, and the state and federal government. These wetlands may be the last best refuge for hundreds of species of birds while we work to save the lake. This possibility alone makes the effort to plan carefully worthwhile.

We need Salt Lake City to examine the true cost of more warehouse development in terms of water and air pollution, increased carbon emissions, destruction of quality of life for existing residents and the loss of wildlife habitat. We also need Salt Lake City to develop a toolkit that can address this development pressure, including transfer of development rights, and a fund to purchase critical pieces of land.

Developers are pressuring the city to act quickly, so they can proceed with their warehouse construction. Doing the analysis we are asking for will take some time. But Salt Lake City prides itself on environmental stewardship. Taking the time to do this planning now, before it is too late, before all is lost, is a gift for the next generation, and for the millions of migratory birds that depend on Great Salt Lake.

Deeda Seed

Deeda Seed is a former Salt Lake City councilmember and member of the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition.

Lynn de Freitas | Friends of the Great Salt Lake

Lynn de Freitas is executive director of Friends of Great Salt Lake.