Inland Port Authority Honing In On ‘Satellite Ports’
Members of the Utah Inland Port Authority Board have long said the country needs better ways to move goods around. And with the state situated on major rail lines and highways, they argue Utah is the perfect place to make that happen.
The need has increased during the pandemic, they said, as global distribution networks have been disrupted and more people shop online.
In a meeting Wednesday, board members noted the inland port project is sometimes mischaracterized as a concentration of warehouses and truck stops in Salt Lake City. But they stressed it’s less a single location — and more of a system designed to move things like food and clothing cheaply and efficiently.
To meet that goal, the Authority is working to create a series of satellite ports across the state. There has been vocal opposition to the project, but more than half of the inland port jurisdictional area in Salt Lake City has already been developed, according to executive director Jack Hedge. The satellite ports still have a long way to go though.
So far, 10 counties have submitted initial proposals, and several more are expected by the end of the year. Hedge said right now the board is focused on gathering data. They want to understand where cargo is currently moving, where road and rail lines are and which areas would make the most sense to build out as secondary ports.
Board members noted the process is not a competition, but county representatives have still been eager to pitch their regions as both worthy of and needing new development.
“Maybe the biggest thing that can happen to southern Utah would be the inland port,” said Frank Nichols, a small business owner in Cedar City. “If it happens, then we're connected to the world.”
Opponents, however, are still raising concerns over the project’s impacts on health and the environment. Nearly all of the public comments Wednesday were against continuing development. Many advocated for more extensive environmental reviews and safeguards, arguing that more development in northwest Salt Lake and across the state will only increase truck and rail traffic and worsen air quality.
But board members spent little time addressing the potential impacts of expanding the logistics network. They haven’t made the satellite port proposals public either.
“The Utah Inland Port System that UIPA envisions involves public policies, public funds and potentially significant impacts affecting Utah's public future,” said Salt Lake resident Stan Holmes, who has been a vocal opponent of the project. “The public has a right to know exactly what’s going on.”
Hedge said there will be a public process to go through before sites are chosen. But there isn’t a set timeline or specified number of locations yet.
“This will always be an opportunity to create these locations, to improve locations, to repurpose and reposition locations,” he said. “This is an ongoing effort that will continue for as long as we need to move goods and products to market.”