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Activists Are Calling For Environmental Study Of The Inland Port — Here's What's Been Done So Far

Photo of northeast quadrant wetlands.
Brian Albers
Groups opposed to the inland port continue to call for an environmental impact study of the project. And, they're pushing for a halt in development until that happens.

As the Inland Port Authority Board prepares to meet for the first time since protestors interrupted its July meeting, opponents of the proposed trade hub in Salt Lake City are calling for a review of the potential environment impacts.

But without an overall business plan for the inland port, launching a study would be premature, state officials say. 

Still, Deeda Seed, a campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, has said the state needs to know how development could affect the region’s air quality and migratory bird habitat, adding that most of the 16,000 acres slated for an inland port project are marshy wetlands. 

The activist group she runs, Stop the Polluting Port, has called for a halt on development until a comprehensive environmental impact study is done.

“Our own city government is enabling this polluting project without doing its due diligence beforehand,” she said. 

The inland port project has faced controversy since the Utah Legislature pushed through legislation in the last days of the 2018 session. That controversy has spurred distrust, underscored by a recent report commissioned by the port authority and conducted by the nonprofit Envision Utah. The report highlighted the public’s environmental concerns as well as perceived transparency issues, suggesting the board has a long way to go to earn back the public trust. 

Blake Thomas, director of regional economic development for Salt Lake County and a member of the Inland Port Authority Board, said that while the board is not expecting a first draft of its business plan until next year, an environmental sustainability plan will be a required component. 

“I think right now is the time to start considering what could happen,” said Bryce Bird, director of Utah’s Division of Air Quality, adding public feedback will influence the project’s development.

Despite the lack of an overall analysis, the state has taken steps to look into the port’s potential impacts, Bird said. His office, along with the Division of Water Quality, have made case-by-case assessments of portions of the development already underway — much of which was approved as part of Salt Lake City’s 2016 master plan for the region. Broader environmental considerations of the inland port area are also folded into existing region-wide monitoring. 

Bird said it’s important to note the area isn’t treated any differently than other development along the Wasatch Front. His office is projecting the impacts of expected growth across the region — which includes the inland port — and said that if any portion of the area fails to meet federal air quality standards, additional controls are triggered. 

Despite the Trump administration’s attempts to rollback environmental protections, Bird said federal regulations go a long way to prevent harmful pollutants from impacting the Valley.

“They cover transportation. They cover large industrial sources,” he said. “And so there is no way for a highly polluting single company to come into that area.” 

When the port’s plan is unveiled, Bird said it would have to comply with state and federal guidelines, including a cap on emissions currently in place. If it doesn’t, he said that could jeopardize developer funding. 

A final draft of the plan is expected by the end of March 2020.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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