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One Arrest After Anti-Inland Port Protests Erupt At State Capitol

Photo of protesters.
Rebecca Ellis / KUER
Protesters were removed from the June meeting of the Utah Inland Port Authority Board almost immediately after it began.

Last month's meeting on the inland port lasted only five minutes before being disrupted by megaphone-bearing protesters, furious over plans to build a massive distribution hub in northwest Salt Lake CIty.

This month’s gathering lasted seconds.

Less than a minute into Utah Inland Port Authority’s monthly meeting on Wednesday, more than a dozen protesters seated in the front rows of the committee room in the State Capitol sprang up with chants of “Abort the port.”

State troopers cited four of the protesters for interrupting the meeting, according to a spokesperson for the Utah State Highway Patrol, which is in charge of law enforcement within the capitol. Ethan Petersen, a protester with Salt Lake City-based activist group Civil Riot, was taken into custody.

The meeting was briefly paused before the authority’s 11-member board reconvened to approve an $8 million budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year and appoint a new executive director, who would oversee the creation of the sprawling 16,000-acre transport center.

Chants of “people over profit” could be heard from the hallway as the board voted to hire Jack C. Hedge as the authority’s new executive director. The board’s members said Hedge was a “first-round draft pick” for the position, having previously worked as the director of cargo and industrial real estate for the Port of Los Angeles, North America’s largest container port.

“We got Zion Williamson today,” said the board’s chair Derek Miller, referencing the college basketball phenom, predicted to be the top pick in the 2019 NBA draft. Hedge will replace Christopher Conabee, a Utah businessman who had filled the position in an interim role.

The activists in attendance, many of whom came wearing surgical masks with black Xs drawn across them, said they were exasperated by what they characterized as the board’s disregard for environmental consequences and lack of transparency over the largest economic development project in state history.

“They only had one meeting along the West Side and it got shut down,” says Darin Mann, who joined the protests as a member of SLC Air Protectors, another local activist group. “I think that’s a direct correlation of the frustration of the families that are going to have to foot the bill with the quality of their lives and the quality of their children’s lives.”

Heather Marron, who delivered a tear-filled testimony to the board members, said she’s concerned over how air quality issues potentially caused by the port could affect her two young daughters, who stayed by her side during Wednesday’s meeting.

“Do I even want to remain here if they continue to pollute this valley?” she said, once the meeting had wrapped up. “My children are seeing the example that the adults are setting for behavior, and it is just disappointing that they are valuing money ... over lives that are invaluable.”

In a statement, Derek Miller, the authority’s chair, said the board was “grateful for member's of the public who attended and provided comment in a lawful and respectful manner. And for those that continue to participate in the public process and public outreach forum.”

Rebecca Ellis is a Kroc Fellow with NPR. She grew up in New York City and graduated from Brown University in 2018 with a Bachelor's in Urban Studies. In college, Rebecca served as a managing editor at the student newspaper, the Brown Daily Herald, and freelanced for Rhode Island's primary paper, the Providence Journal. She has spent past summers as an investigator at the Bronx Defenders, a public defender's office in the Bronx, New York, and as a reporter at the Miami Herald, filing general assignment stories and learning to scuba dive.
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