Opinion: As leaders of our church, we can’t support a Weber County Inland Port that exploits the environment

Unitarian Universalists value and honor the interdependent web of all existence.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Columns of courting midges fly amongst shore birds and waterfowl including a yellow-headed blackbird in the Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management area on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Following a record breaking snow year some signs of improvement can be seen in the shallow edges of the Great Salt Lake improving bird habitat.

Unitarian Universalists value and honor the interdependent web of all existence. We know that all life is interconnected and the existence of humanity relies on the well-being of the earth. Because we place less emphasis on an afterlife and more on how we live our lives here and now, acting on our beliefs means living lives of worth and value and speaking out when we see harm being done.

We each have a role to play in supporting the thriving of all life. This is why you’ll often see Unitarian Universalists working for issues of equity and justice with humanity and with our earth, and why we are strongly opposing the proposed Weber County Inland Port.

Great Salt Lake (GSL) is the beating heart of the Salt Lake Valley. The GSL and its wetlands play a crucial role in the health and well-being of Utah, our home. As a Unitarian Universalist congregation based in Ogden, we, as well as other groups, are concerned about the threat posed to GSL and its wetlands by the proposed Weber County Inland Port. Ben Hart, Executive Director of the Utah Inland Port Authority, said recently of various stakeholders, “I share many of their concerns, quite frankly. We want to make sure we’re responsive.” As Unitarian Universalists in this community, we are speaking out to say that we need to protect, not exploit, the environment that sustains us and of which we are a part.

Inland Port development would require the infilling of fragile wetlands, building and paving of roads, trenching of water lines and sewer pipes, and construction of electrical lines. After completion, there would likely be hundreds of vehicles throughout the area each day — many of which would use diesel-powered engines. If we allow the Inland Port to fast-track development in this rural, agricultural area, the amount of air pollution generated will be significant and unlikely to meet Clean Air Act attainment goals.

The proposed Weber County Inland Port has exploded from 900 acres to a nearly 9,000-acre megasite. The probable negative impacts of this proposal are well-documented. The proposed site sits between two protected pieces of wetlands, the Harold S. Crane and Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Areas (WMAs). Not only is the site enclosed by wetlands to the north and south, but it contains a significant proportion of wetlands within the site itself. Joel Ferry, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, pointed this out at a meeting of the Utah Inland Port Authority discussing the proposed site. Ferry also noted that the state had made a significant investment in the WMAs and that unless we’re mindful, sensitive areas like these wetlands around the GSL can be negatively impacted by development. So, in a time when protecting the GSL is vital, why has the Utah Inland Port Authority proposed such a large and harmful project?

Our community recognizes the need to sustain GSL, for our health and the health of all the organisms that rely on it, including the 12 million birds that depend on the lake. The wetlands in particular are crucial in preserving the GSL. They provide food and protected breeding areas not only for millions of migratory birds but also for myriad insects, amphibians and animals. These wetlands are vital for the health and ecology of the GSL.

Wetlands also help to protect our air quality as they filter the air. Weber County is a serious nonattainment area for air quality under the Clean Air Act. Asthma rates continue to rise in all age groups in Utah and scientists estimate that air pollution in Utah causes 2,480 to 8,000 premature deaths annually. The proposed Inland Port would not only compromise existing wetlands that help to improve air quality but also contribute new pollution.

The intended Weber County Inland Port is in a remote area of western Weber County. We may not go there often, but its wetlands are working for us every day. Let them not be “out of sight, out of mind.” We recognize the value of Great Salt Lake and how precious its water is, how precious all of our water is. Our community says no to paving over wetlands and using our precious water for unneeded industrial development. Instead, knowing that whatever happens to the earth will be felt by generations to come, we say development is no longer appropriate along Great Salt Lake. In relationship with all that is precious and important, let us take seriously our commitment to the lake and its wetlands.

Both the Inland Port Authority and the Department of Natural Resources have promised to listen to local stakeholders and to be responsive. Make your values heard by opposing the Weber County Inland Port. Contact the Weber County Commissioners to voice your opposition. Write to the Utah Inland Port Authority and tell them the local community says vote “no” on the Weber County proposal.

(Photo courtesy of Kristin Famula) Kristin Famula

Kristin Famula is the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden.

(Photo courtesy of Chalice Gustaveson) Chalice Gustaveson

Chalice Gustaveson is the environmental ministry representative at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden.

The Salt Lake Tribune is committed to creating a space where Utahns can share ideas, perspectives and solutions that move our state forward. We rely on your insight to do this. Find out how to share your opinion here, and email us at voices@sltrib.com.