SALT LAKE CITY – The inland port is moving from concept to concrete.
Envision Utah brought together business leaders, politicians, environmental and community groups to discuss the giant import-export center being proposed in Salt Lake City’s Northwest Quadrant.
The concept – bringing together road, rail and airport – bypasses coastal ports to ship goods in and out of Utah. Lawmakers have referred to it as the biggest economic development project in state history with the potential to generate billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.
Envision Utah, which is tasked with helping to create the plan for the inland port, held a stakeholder meeting Thursday where they had tables for people to offer their ideas. Priorities ranged from protecting the environment to spreading the wealth out to other communities.
“There are already landowners who have rights to move forward with development so we can’t wait too long before we decide what we want to happen,” said Ari Bruening, the president of Envision Utah.
Shovels haven’t hit the ground yet and the inland port is already controversial. Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski is suing the state over it, accusing the legislature of a land grab. Environmental groups have rallied against the project, raising concerns about increased pollution and impacts on wildlife and the Great Salt Lake.
In fact, Envision Utah’s own surveys of the project show that air quality, traffic and wetlands are the top concerns of residents across the state, followed by resource needs and transparency about the project.
“If they’re really concerned about the citizens of this state, I think they should be listening to the people who are giving them a clear message that we don’t want the port,” said Heather Dove, the president of Great Salt Lake Audubon.
The Utah State Legislature is pushing ahead with the project. A bill recently passed by lawmakers expands the concept statewide, in a “hub and spoke” model. Betty Parker of Clearfield’s Freeport Center said she favored that.
“There’s satellite companies and areas that could also be included in this,” she said. “We have over seven million square feet.”
Bruening said based on the feedback from stakeholders and the public, a vision will be formed.
Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne said residents in his area are excited about job opportunities but also worried about the impact.
“We have 75 percent of our adult-aged population that commutes every day from the Tooele Valley to the Wasatch Front, so this being right in between along that transportation corridor, is going to have some impact on our quality of life,” he said.
So far, there’s no date for shovels to start hitting the ground.
“We have no date. We don’t even know what this is,” Bruening said. “So what we want to hear from people is what ought to happen here.”
Public meetings are scheduled throughout April. The Inland Port Authority is also seeking public comment online. A link to that can be found here.