SALT LAKE CITY — While the debate around the development of a Utah inland port in the heart of the Salt Lake Valley rages on, rural Utah wants a bite of the global trade apple.
Beaver, Carbon, Emery, Grand, Iron, San Juan, Juab, Wayne and Tooele counties have made pitches to the Utah Inland Port Authority to be selected as locations for a “satellite” port or “spokes” to the hub-and-spoke model state leaders have envisioned for a massive import and export network of truck, rail and airport connections meant to maximize Utah’s place in the global logistics economy.
It’s too soon to tell which county or counties may be chosen to host a satellite location as Utah Inland Port Authority officials say they are still in the midst of evaluating the viability of those counties’ proposals.
Those rural counties see a partnership with the Utah Inland Port Authority — the Legislature-created entity to guide development of a global trade hub on 16,000 acres west of Salt Lake City International Airport — as an opportunity for economic growth.
But anti-port critics see the rural interest as an indication that the port authority, using its ability to collect and control tax dollars in its jurisdiction, will facilitate increased exports of fossil fuels and extractive industries out of rural Utah, particularly coal out of Emery County or crude oil out of Carbon County. And critics have been frustrated that these proposals have taken shape out of the public eye.
“This takes us in a backward direction,” said Deeda Seed, with the Center for Biological Diversity and a lead organizer of the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition. “Coal is an industry that’s dying — they’re going bankrupt for a reason — and so it’s irresponsible, just purely from a financial standpoint, to be looking at any of this.”
But port authority officials say the proposals have come only as the Utah Port Authority has fielded interest from rural Utah, and they’re only exploring the feasibility of those ideas before they take any proposals to the public.
“By doing our research, we’re simply in this phase right now of doing our homework,” Ginger Chinn, the Utah Inland Port Authority’s managing director of business development, told the Deseret News recently.
And Chinn said just because an area’s main export may currently be in extractive industries, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the future of that area’s economy. That’s why port authority officials are interested in exploring rural areas’ existing infrastructure and how that may be used to expand into new areas, she said.
“It’s market driven,” Chinn said, noting that coal has begun to “drop off” as an industry. “We need to find ways to help these counties with diversifying. So how can we do that?”
Chinn gave the Utah Inland Port Authority Board during its Sept. 16 meeting a high-level overview of the proposals and how port authority officials are now exploring the “business rationale” of partnering with these areas in the next phase of the port authority’s exploration of siting satellite locations. Ultimately, the information can be compiled into what she called an “asset map” that could benefit the state as a whole.
Chinn said she didn’t have a timeline of when clearer proposals would take shape, but if and when they do, they would be brought to the port board for consideration for a project area designation. If the port authority designates a project area, it could infuse tax dollars collected from future property tax growth for infrastructure investment.
Here’s a breakdown of the proposals that counties have submitted, according to Utah Inland Port Authority documents:
Carbon County officials propose using about 3,900 acres south and east of Wellington.
The site would include the Price River Terminal, which hosts a crude oil transloading facility with connections to Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads, according to its website. It is also capable of receiving trains of fracking sand to support Uinta Basin drilling activities.
“A potential satellite port in Carbon County is very appealing as the proposed site has economic development incentives such as location in an Opportunity Zone and CRA Project Area, rail and spurs onsite and close proximity to a U.S. highway and state route as well as within in 70 miles of two location points along Interstate 70 and one location point along Interstate 15,” Carbon County officials wrote in their submission form.
Already on site is rail shipping infrastructure, county officials wrote, and the site is within 10 miles of Carbon County Regional Airport.
For current exports, county officials listed “manufactured goods such as portable substations and dust reduction equipment, petroleum products, natural gas, mining equipment, printed materials, RVs, steel structures, fracking sand, detergents, log cabin kits, bronze statues/art, aircraft machined parts.”
For imports, they listed “trash/waste, steel, paper, plastics, cabling/wiring.”
Carbon County officials wrote their area does not have any existing or planned renewable energy projects, but there’s “plenty of land around (the) site to develop a renewable energy project.”
In response to a question about “proposed environmental actions to mitigate impacts to the community/land, water, air, structures, living organisms, and environmental values,” county officials only wrote “None.”
Emery County officials propose a site of about 8,891 acres near Green River, made up of 1,683 acres of private land, 2,983 acres of state land and 4,238 acres of federal Bureau of Land Management land.
The site is north of the Green River Municipal Airport, with Union Pacific Rail, U.S. 6 and I-70 running through or near the project. Various trucking companies already service the area.
Emery County officials listed coal mines among their top exporting and importing businesses, along with “conductivity-based polymer and composite solutions, nickel coated carbon fiber, fiber internet services, mining equipment, fertilizers, produce, hay and other steel manufactured products.”
They listed imports as steel, nickel, non-woven materials and charcoal.
In response to a question in the form about external markets or regions that the area is currently supplying to, Emery County officials wrote “national and international” markets while “working on the Oakland Coal Port to Japan.”
Emery County officials also noted a solar farm has been proposed on the project site. However, they offered no proposed actions to mitigate environmental concerns.
Beaver County officials outlined a “several hundred” acre site off a rail spur near Milford, a small city of 1,500 residents.
“Beaver County has a rail spur located on the west side of the county with enough surrounding land to construct a manufacturing plant and/or warehouse,” Beaver County officials wrote in the submission form. “It is a Union Pacific hub which is a full service facility.”
Beaver County would be a “perfect location for a satellite port,” county officials wrote, because of the area’s existing connections to Union Pacific, access to I-15, and an I-70 junction 20 miles north of Beaver. They noted it was halfway between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, and would be near small airports located in Milford, Beaver, Cedar City, and St. George, as well as three hours away from larger airports in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.
Beaver County officials listed agricultural and mining companies — Smithfield Hog Production and CS Mining — as among their area’s top employment sectors. They noted Union Pacific and a slew of trucking companies already provide shipping services for the area’s imports and exports.
“If Beaver County did have a satellite port, more companies would consider relocating to our area,” county officials wrote. “Smithfield Foods is considering utilizing the port for exportation of livestock within the continental United States and Asia. Agricultural exports such as alfalfa can be exported as well.”
Beaver County officials also noted the county already hosts “every type of renewable energy.”
“We house a large solar plant, wind plant, water, biogas and geothermal plants,” they wrote. “These plants with the exception of the water plant, are located on the west side of the county in close proximity to the proposed site. The spur is roughly a half our to the south of the windmills. The biogas and geothermal plants are further east. There are ongoing solar projects for the next 5 years.”
In response to a question about ways to mitigate environmental impact, county officials only wrote “comply with (National Environmental Policy Act).”
Beaver County officials said being selected as a satellite port location would provide a needed boost to a rural economy that has struggled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“An inland port will open job opportunities as well as income for our county to be able to thrive and bring people to the community as well as keep them here for generations,” they wrote.
Grand County officials propose a 613-acre site adjacent to I-70 and near the Crescent Junction interchange and U.S. 191, east of Green River.
Rail passes through the property, with a rail spur near the Crescent Junction interchange and a transloading site, according to their submission. The site is about 20 miles away from the Canyonlands Field Airport, and is serviced by several trucking companies.
“Within close proximity to major trucking routes along Interstate 70, rail access through the property and close proximity to the Canyonlands Field Airport,” Grand County officials wrote. “This is an ideal site for a satellite port.
For current importing and exporting businesses, Grand County officials listed an array of Moab-based companies and local food producers.
They wrote no renewable energy opportunities exist currently, “but Grand County is willing to entertain all proposals for renewable energy.”
Grand County officials also wrote “none” in response to a question about proposed actions to mitigate environmental concerns.
Iron County officials offered up three sites in their submission.
One includes about 540 acres labeled Port 15 Utah, about 4 miles west of Cedar City, a rail-served industrial site owned by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration that has been envisioned as an intermodal business park with rail, trucking and air connections. The second is about 418 acres labeled Iron Springs near Cedar City, owned by Vanguard Properties. The third is an over 2,000-acre site labeled Fiddlers Canyon Dev., owned by Fiddlers Canyon LLC.
The sites range from 5 to 9 miles away from I-15 via state Route 56, with Union Pacific rail access either on or near the properties. The sites are all within 7 miles from the Cedar City Regional Airport.
County officials listed “agriculture, mining, manufacturing, technology, health care, aviation and retail” as top industry growth opportunities.
“We have an increasing number of inquiries for rail intermodal service,” Iron County officials wrote in their submission. “Our area’s hay manufacturers, a Washington County gypsum mine, a Kane County coal mine are all looking for rail solutions for exporting their products. Many area manufacturers would consider exporting their products if a cost-effective solution for getting products to a seaport could be found.”
For renewable energy, Iron County officials wrote their county has “more utility-scale solar plants than the rest of Utah combined. Our high altitude, cooler temperatures, and number of sunny days make Iron County the most efficient area in the state for solar power production. We currently have three large power plants located on or near the sites we have recommended.”
Iron County had a more robust answer, compared to other counties, when it came to proposed actions to mitigate environmental impact.
“Maintaining clean air and water is paramount in Iron County,” county officials wrote, noting they have been working on an “industrial belt route to divert industrial truck traffic away from Cedar City” and other populated areas.
Additionally, acknowledging a “limited water supply in the Cedar City valley,” county officials said “the city and Iron County have worked in cooperation with our water conservancy district to capture runoff from the nearby mountains in aquifer recharging basins throughout the valley.”
San Juan County
San Juan County officials propose two sites totaling 593 acres about 3 miles away from the Monticello Airport and 22 miles to Blanding Airport.
The sites do not have access to rail, only truck access from U.S. 191 and U.S. 491, according to their submission form.
County officials listed agricultural production of wheat and safflower, extraction of helium, extraction and agricultural manufacturing and outdoor recreation manufacturing as top industry growth opportunities in the area. They noted the area already exports uranium and copper globally.
For renewable energy, county officials noted an existing wind farm is located outside of the project areas in Monticello. “The landowners and San Juan County are both open to the prospect for additional renewable energy projects,” they wrote.
The county listed “no environmental concerns” in response to a question about ways to mitigate environmental impacts.
Juab County officials note the J. Randy McKnight Municipal Airport sits on 425 developable acres, with plans already approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to expand the runway. They also noted the county has six I-15 interchanges, as well as multiple rail spurs along I-15, as well as mainline rail through other parts of the county.
“Potential demand for a satellite port is high,” Juab County officials wrote. “We already have several import/export businesses in the area, including neighboring counties who do not have local rail or freeway access.
They also noted Juab County’s proximity to the Wasatch Front “is also a positive factor.”
“Many Utah County companies have already made the move to Juab County and are in various stages of doing so,” they wrote. “More businesses are expected to come as the cost of doing business on the Wasatch Front continues to increase.”
Juab County’s submission lacked specifics when compared to other counties’ submissions, with many answers to questions simply saying: “The gathering of this data is still in process and it will continue to develop as we work with the Inland Port Authority and (the Utah Association of Counties).”
However, Juab County noted its area has opportunities for renewable energy, with a 500-acre solar facility that will begin construction this fall.
Wayne County officials proposed only 34 acres, in a county that is 97% public lands and the fourth lowest populated Utah county. The submission form provided to the Deseret News did not include a map of the area.
County officials wrote Wayne County has “several, small light manufacturing businesses that may benefit from a satellite port.” However, the county struggles with rail connectivity. The county has access to two small airports: Wayne Wonderland Airport in Lyman and Hanksville Airport in Torrey.
Wayne County’s submission also lacked details when compared to other county’s submissions. It acknowledged the costs for developing and operating a satellite port in Wayne County would require “substantial” investment, “but not beyond the ability of potential participants and partners.”
“Wayne County has considerable assets including a spectacular environment, outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities, stable and hard-working resident base with natural resources that include timber and world class paleontology,” county officials wrote. “Issues that hamper economic development are similar to many other rural areas including lack of adequate living wage jobs, challenges in access to available goods, services and markets, lack of affordable and quality housing, growing need for improved broadband and shortage of infrastructure.”
County officials also wrote Wayne County does have opportunities for renewable energy “once useable infrastructure is put in place. The site is ripe for solar and possible wind generation.”
As for environmental impacts, Wayne County officials acknowledged they “may present themselves once firm plans are made, but it is anticipated that they can be dealt with in a safe manner.”
“Until more is known about the potential uses of the Wayne County satellite port property air quality standards will be unknown,” county officials wrote. “The fact that the inherent possibility of a Wayne County satellite port property should generate job interests and growth which in turn will provide income and opportunity all of which will be an economic added value to the Wayne County community.
As of Sept. 18, Chinn said she had not received Tooele County’s submission because it was likely still being processed through the Utah Association of Counties. But Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne said the form had been recently submitted so the county could be considered for a satellite port.
Earlier this year, Tooele County officials began discussing a proposal to not only vie for a satellite port area, but a proposal to host the ‘central hub” of the Utah Inland Port amid political pushback from Salt Lake City leaders and environmental activists.
Their proposed project area included nearly 11,000 acres of mostly open farm lands in Tooele County, and would include an already approved 900-acre business park near the Utah Motorsports Park and Deseret Peak Complex in Erda. If inland port officials didn’t bite at the central hub proposal, Tooele County leaders said at the time they also wanted to be considered as a “satellite” location.
Milne said the Tooele County satellite port proposal is similar, but narrowed down in acreage.
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