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Community airs concerns over pollution potential of planned inland port

Denni Cawley, executive director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, speaks during a news conference about development of an inland port in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. The Community Coalition for Port Reform wants state leaders to slow down development the proposed inland port to consider air quality and other potential problems. Jared Page/KSL Newsradio

SALT LAKE CITY — Community leaders and environmental groups say they’re worried about increased air pollution and other possible problems with the state’s plans to build an inland port in northwest Salt Lake City.

Collectively calling themselves the Community Coalition for Port Reform, the groups held an impromptu news conference Wednesday outside the Grand America Hotel, where moments earlier a panel hosted by Envision Utah touted the economic benefits of the proposed inland port on 20,000 acres near Salt Lake City International Airport.

“Today we came to understand the best- and worst-case scenarios for a Utah inland port, potentially the state’s largest economic development effort. What we now know is that the recently enacted law directing this development creates the path to a worst-case scenario,” said Dorothy Owen, chairwoman of the Westpointe Community Council, one of three communities within the inland port footprint.

Salt Lake City officials and representatives of the Wespointe, Popular Grove and Jordan Meadows communities have complained about legislation granting the authority to develop the inland port, saying it gives the state too much control over land-use decisions and tax revenue.

Owen says the legislation passed earlier this year creating the Utah Inland Port Authority ignores residents’ “most basic civic values,” while “giving tremendous power to an unelected, unaccountable board to control the most basic health, safety, land-use and taxation concerns of local community.”

Unlike the state-led efforts to coordinate development of 700 acres in Draper with the Point of the Mountain Development Commission, the port authority is not tasked with taking into account pollution or other negative impacts on the area or the quality of life of its residents, she said.

“There’s a tremendous difference in the content and the tone of those two pieces of legislation,” Owen said. “Both create a land authority. Both of them passed the Utah state Legislature, were signed by the governor, and they even have some of the same sponsors. But they’re very different, and we need to know why.”

The coalition says the inland port deserves the same amount of study as the prison redevelopment project, but thus far has skipped past any public process, study and appropriation of funds.

Denni Cawley, executive director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, says vehicle traffic will significantly increase in the area with an inland port, adding to the air quality problem along the Wasatch Front.

“We do not see any way this project will not bring a significant increase in Salt Lake Valley air pollution, freeway gridlock, and pressure for ever more freeway construction,” said Cawley, noting that air pollution can lead to “premature deaths, strokes, heart attacks, brain disease and dysfunction, decreased lung function, cancer, still births, pregnancy complications, impaired fetal development and shortened life expectancies.”

Deeda Seed, a former Salt Lake City Council member, said the Community Coalition for Port Reform was formed to draw attention to “serious potential consequences of the inland port development.” The group wants more local governance of the area, and it’s calling for air quality and conservation evaluations.

“Contrary … to popular belief, the area where the inland port is located is not an empty space,” Owen said.

Discussions between Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s office, legislative leaders and governor’s office have been ongoing since the law was passed this March.

Those negotiations stalled last week, with both sides saying there’s no reason to call a special session of the Legislature to address the city’s concerns, despite months of talks and Gov. Gary Herbert’s willingness to call a special session to tweak SB234.

The Utah Inland Port Authority will be an 11-member board made up of a majority of state officials, with one seat from the Salt Lake City Council and one seat from Salt Lake City International Airport, and other seats for stakeholders including Salt Lake County and West Valley City.

City leaders, as well as members of the Salt Lake County Council and the Utah League of Cities and Towns, have decried the bill as an unconstitutional land and power grab since the port authority board would have the power to ultimately override city administrative land-use decisions.

They’ve also protested the port authority’s power to capture up to 100 percent of the project area’s tax increment. Over the next 25 years, the city estimates the port authority would take control of more than $1.4 billion in new tax revenue, including $360 million in new property tax revenues from Salt Lake City, $581 million from the Salt Lake City School District and $84 million from Salt Lake City libraries.