Public Angry And Confused Over Inland Port Project, But Board Presses On
As protesters chanted and blew whistles at the first Utah Inland Port Authority Board in months, the port’s new director tried on Thursday to calm public anger and ease confusion over the proposed transportation hub in Salt Lake City’s northwest corner.
In his first public address since taking the job in June, Jack Hedge, a longtime transportation executive, spoke at the Inland Port Authority’s board meeting — the first in months — that faced protests but did not have the intensity as seen previously.
Hedge, who previously oversaw cargo and industrial real estate at the Port of Los Angeles, also tried to assuage ongoing concerns about the project’s potential impacts on air quality and wildlife while underscoring that the development already underway in the area was not the result of the Board Authority.
“We take what you say seriously, in fact, we agree with you,” Hedge said, referring to public comments voicing concern about the environment. “And again the things that are going on there now predate the inland port authority being established.”
The board made several attempts to distance itself from an agreement the city made with a coalition of developers prior to its formation. The project was recently granted a $28 million tax break and is currently under construction in the inland port area.
After initial public comments criticized the board’s role in allowing the development to proceed, Hedge was urged by his colleagues to clarify that it was beyond the board’s control. It would become a sticking point throughout the night.
“I’m going to indict you City Council,” said Salt Lake City resident Clark Clements, referring to the arrangement. “You let us come in here with our time and our emotions, caring about this environment. And you led us on to think we had impact. It’s a charade.”
Hedge spoke after a lengthy public comment period, attempting once more to clarify the board’s goals towards what he said could be a state-of-the-art, green logistics center. He also acknowledged concerns laid out earlier this month by the nonprofit planning group Envision Utah in a report commissioned by the port authority.
Hedge pointed out that the primary concerns over environmental impacts and board transparency laid out in the report are being considered. The board is still in the early stages of developing a business plan for the area, he said.
The Envision Utah report outlined five scenarios through which the inland port project could develop. Options range from no board influence in the development process to extensive use of tax increments to help mitigate the project’s potential harmful effects.
But the option many in the audience were pulling for - no port - was not included.
“It’s not an option because the economy continues to grow,” Hedge said. “As long as we keep buying and consuming stuff and the population continues to grow, we need to be able to move the goods and products in that we need to have [in order] to support our economies and, frankly, our lives. So no port isn’t practical.”