Frustrated that the state’s planned inland port is taking so long to get up and running, a Utah lawmaker and member of the board overseeing its creation accused community advocates of “bombarding” board members and public meetings with grievances about air quality.
“The public that is coming to these meetings are beating the hell out of us every time we turn around,” Sen. Gregg Buxton, R-Roy, told a legislative committee Monday.
“It’s mostly about air quality. It’s mostly about truck traffic and being able to make everything work,” he said.
The Inland Port Authority Board is overseeing creation and development of a trading hub planned over 20,000 acres near Salt Lake City International Airport. The board has been trailed by controversy and vocal critics since its creation earlier this year.
Aside from a poor public image, Buxton said monthly meetings and uncommitted board members are slowing the project’s progress.
Inland port critics worry the project’s development and activity will worsen the Wasatch Front’s air quality and have other environmental impacts.
“The reason the port authority board is receiving so much community comment is because of that concern. That will go on whether they meet once a month or twice a month,” said Deeda Seed, a community advocate who works for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Buxton told the Legislative Management Committee that while some board members are “really committed” to the project’s success, he believes others are not.
House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said he was frustrated to hear of Buxton’s complaints.
“We ought to talk about maybe changing the way it’s operating,” Wilson said. “We can’t afford to have people dragging their feet on something of this much significance for our state.”
Frustrated that the board has been meeting for nearly six months but members only toured sites in Salt Lake’s northwest quadrant last week, Buxton said meetings should occur more frequently than once per month.
The Roy Republican worries Utah will miss out on business as other western states like New Mexico bring their own inland ports online.
“I’m nervous because I see other states doing this and they’re way ahead of us,” Buxton said after the meeting.
As lawmakers complained of the board’s slow progress, Seed asked: “What’s the rush?"
“On the one hand, they say, ‘This is going to take years and years to build out,’ and on the other hand they say, ‘We need to move quickly.’ And then they try to move quickly and they make huge mistakes,” she said.
The Inland Port Authority Board is searching for a permanent executive director, which Buxton said could take from three to six months. An interim administrator is expected to be announced at the board’s meeting this week.