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The Spanish Fork Inland Port hasn’t been approved yet. It’s already drawing critics

Deeda Seed with the Center for Biological Diversity stands in front of other environmental activists under the Utah State Capitol rotunda, May 11, 2023. Their protest came ahead of the Utah Inland Port Authority’s board meeting.
Martha Harris
Deeda Seed with the Center for Biological Diversity stands in front of other environmental activists under the Utah State Capitol rotunda, May 11, 2023. Their protest came ahead of the Utah Inland Port Authority’s board meeting.

When the Utah Inland Port was first proposed, the focus was on developing a commercial trade hub in Salt Lake City. Now, the port authority’s board is weighing the possibility of expanding statewide and creating satellite ports in places like Spanish Fork.

According to a draft plan, the proposed Spanish Fork project “is envisioned to be a 2,200-acre industrial park with approximately 10 million square feet of new industrial facilities.” The area is close to Utah Lake and contains some wetlands.

Scott Wolford, vice president of the authority’s business development team, told the board in a May 11 presentation that it would create new economic opportunities for Spanish Fork residents.

“[The] Project area enjoys a very strategic location with access to I-15, U.S. Highway 6, Union Pacific Mainline Rail, and the aforementioned general aviation municipal airport [Spanish Fork Airport],” Wolford said.

According to the drafted plan, business incentives would favor certain industries, like manufacturing, aerospace, food production and research and development.

“It’s about creating economic opportunity in more diverse places across the state of Utah,” said Ben Hart, executive director of the Utah Inland Port Authority.

Hart also said that by creating a more efficient transportation and logistics system, the port will get more trucks off the road and reduce pollution.

“So just to be totally blunt on that, we are not in the business or habit of trying to destroy wetlands or other natural environments,” Hart said.

But local environmental groups don’t buy it.

About 20 individuals from environmental advocacy groups gathered under the Utah State Capitol rotunda before the board’s May 11 meeting and held signs that read “stop all the polluting ports” and “repeal the port.”

“Stung by the public's concern about air pollution from the port, the port authority started telling the story that the port would clean up Salt Lake City’s air by replacing diesel trucks with trains,” said Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “It wasn't true then, it's not true now. And it still won't be true if the port gets spread out all over the state. There's not a city anywhere in this country where a port has brought them cleaner air. It's always the exact opposite.”

Speakers called on the board to reject proposals like the Spanish Fork Inland Port, arguing the plans are rushed, poorly thought out and damaging to the environment. They also poked at the heart of the project, saying it would not benefit the state, economically or otherwise.

For the Spanish Fork Inland Port specifically, protestors raised concerns around Utah Lake.

“We know that inland ports dramatically increase pollution — air, water, noise, light. So much has been said about the impact of a port on the Great Salt Lake. And all of those same issues exist for Utah Lake. All of that pollution, which negatively impacts our human health, also hurts our wildlife,” said Teri Harman, a Utah County photographer and member of the Utah Lake Conservation Coalition.

After the protest, many attended the Utah Inland Port Authority board meeting upstairs. Public comment was limited to 15 minutes, so only some individuals who signed up to speak were able to. Only two people spoke opposing the Spanish Fork Inland Port. Those who spoke in favor included a land owner, three developers and the Spanish Fork city manager.

After the Spanish Fork presentation, board member and Salt Lake City Council member Victoria Petro-Eschler said as the port authority works with more cities, she would like to see more diversity of developers.

“I love engines of economic development, but I'm seeing the same landowners in every project area,” Petro-Eschler said. ”We need to diversify and to increase the number of people who are becoming those engines if we're going to do this and not just enriching the same pot.”

The board has not yet taken any action on the Spanish Fork proposal but may vote on it at a future board meeting.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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