Ann Florence: Utah Inland Port Authority is passing out free money in form of water, power and infrastructure

UIPA is giving money to any county or city that can make a case for building its own inland port.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A view of farmland in Tooele County. Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020.

When certain people hear “free enterprise,” the key word is free, as in free government money. And if they can push enough people out of their way, the prize is theirs.

The Utah Inland Port Authority is passing out free money in the form of water, power and transportation infrastructure to any county or city that can make a case for building its own inland port. Once a location is approved, it can be labeled a “project area,” a euphemism for “private businesses subsidized by taxpayers.” UIPA and private owners will be given a share of municipal taxes for decades to come instead of those taxes going to other urgently needed services.

Once the infrastructure is built, surrounding land becomes more valuable and ripe for development. The highly lucrative cycle of land destruction continues. It is welfare for the rich that provides developers with risk-free investments.

No wonder developers are pressuring county and city councils to go after their share of UIPA’s money. Cedar City’s port was approved. Tooele and Spanish Fork are close behind with their hands out, followed by at least six more cities and counties.

UIPA has millions of dollars granted annually by the Legislature as well as the ability to issue bonds to cover development costs. Two Republican Utah legislators, the chief of staff for Utah House Republicans, and a representative of Gov. Spencer Cox make up 80% of the board. Its decisions about where and when to dole out funds are swift and unanimous.

These so-called inland ports appear to be nothing more than glorified warehouse districts financed by public money.

When money is free and there’s not enough to go around, people get pushy. A new kid in town is elbowing his way to the front of the hand-out line, only it’s really just a couple of kids in new outfits. Land chosen for the Tooele port is owned by the Zenith-Bolinder LLC, which was registered just last year in Delaware, where companies don’t pay income taxes if they don’t do business there.

“Zenith” is Zenith Development owned by Chuck Akerlow, former Utah Republican chair, who was convicted of tax evasion in 1995.

“Bolinder” refers to brothers Bruce and Garry Bolinder, whose son Bridger is a Utah state representative. When the incensed residents of Tooele suspect back-room dealing, there is reason for suspicion.

The UIPA has no enforcement power. Any lofty assurances they give about protecting critical wetlands, conserving water, or limiting air and noise pollution are based on hope and have absolutely no binding on profit-hungry developers.

It’s a waste of ink to remind UIPA that these are life and death issues. They are well aware of air pollution’s lethal effects, from lung and cardiovascular diseases to birth defects, infant deaths and shortened lives.

Gov. Cox supports rural development as long as it doesn’t affect him. He grew up on 150 acres of Fairview farmland that has been in his family for seven generations.

He once waxed nostalgic, “There’s something grounding to it.”

He knew he would hate “the noise, the traffic, and the air” in the city. “Fairview is the only place I can be me and feel connected to the soil and soul of our state.”

Cox’s wife Abby shared, “When he drives into the Sanpete Valley, there’s a lot of stress and anxiety that sort of melts away from him, because this is a peaceful place.”

Has the governor asked the people of Tooele how they feel about their peace, their soil, and their souls? Or about the generations before them who worked and loved the land?

Perhaps Cox would be happy to roll hot asphalt over his pastures and offer them to the highest bidder.

Not a single UIPA board member lives within sight of a warehouse district or near the thunder of exhaust-spewing trucks. Not one breathes dirty air like Tooele’s. These unelected board members hold the power to rob Tooele’s families of their bucolic vistas and cherished lifestyles. But they always drive home to the tranquil neighborhoods that shelter their own children from harm.

UIPA, slow down, break up the hand-out line, and listen to the people of Tooele before an irreplaceable heritage is destroyed.

Ann Florence

Ann Florence teaches therapeutic poetry at the Youth Resource Center and believes that a connection to the land is essential for all of us, especially young people, to flourish.