For immediate release: 3/19/20
Stop the Polluting Port Coalition calls for halt to port planning until COVID-19 crisis is over
The COVID-19 and earthquake emergencies, raise critical questions about the viability of an inland port in the northwest quadrant of Salt Lake City, and the public’s ability to participate in important planning meetings.
Citing the COVID-19 and earthquake emergencies, members of a local citizens coalition want inland port planning stopped until the crisis has passed. “The current situation raises critical questions about the viability of an inland port in the northwest quadrant of Salt Lake City and the public’s ability to participate in the planning process," said Deeda Seed, spokesperson for the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition.
Because of ‘shelter in place’ requirements it will be impossible for the public to fully engage in public meetings where critical decisions could be made, including one where the Port Authority intends to release its business plan, and another where it will adopt the business plan. Also, COVID-19 and the economic recession it may bring, raises questions about the financial viability of the proposed port, and whether we should be investing public resources in it.
"The inability of affected communities, community organizations and individuals to engage in upcoming Port Authority activities should serve notice to the Port Authority to table ANY decisions concerning the Port until current ‘social distancing’ constraints are lifted,” said Richard Holman, Chair of the Westside Coalition.
Also, the epicenter of our recent earthquake was directly below the Rio Tinto/Kennecott tailings impoundment in the area designated for inland port development. The entire area proposed for port development is riddled with faults and suffered from the most severe shaking. As the delays and cost overruns at the state prison under construction show, the entire Inland Port area contains soils that are unstable during an earthquake, calling into question the wisdom of massive public investment in the Port.
“The Legislature was warned they couldn’t have picked a worse place for the port. The integrity of Kennecott’s tailings impoundment has been a matter of dispute, alarm, and scandal for three decades,” said Dr. Brian Moench, Board President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to protect key buildings throughout the Valley from the near certainty of earthquakes even stronger than Wednesday’s, yet we are subsidizing building an inland port that will almost certainly, eventually, become smothered by that massive impoundment.”
Before any more planning takes place, or money is spent, the coalition wants answers to the following questions from the Utah Inland Port Authority (UIPA):
How does the Covid-19 pandemic effect inland port planning and development schedules? What provisions has UIPA made to engage with state and local health officials assessing impacts of the current pandemic and long-range planning for future crises that may affect inland port workers and residents near inland port facilities?
The massive Kennecott-Rio Tinto tailings impoundment was at the epicenter of the 5.7 magnitude earthquake. How does UIPA plan to address the potential (catastrophic) impacts of this geo-hazard to surrounding communities? To warehouses and other business and industry planned for the UIPA jurisdictional land? To the environment, nearby bird sanctuaries, and Great Salt Lake? To what extent is UIPA engaging geologists, architects, economists, and public health officials who can provide the range of impacts to an inland port system in the event of a 7.0-7.5 or greater earthquake that is likely to strike Salt Lake Valley in the future.
Strong wind events like those in the past few days have carried large quantities of dust off the tailings impoundment and nearby playa toward the new prison and inland port construction sites. How does UIPA intend to address the serious air quality and health effects such events cause now and in the future?
How does the UIPA Board propose to conduct meetings and staff to conduct community outreach given the current need for social distancing? What measures will UIPA take to assure the public of access to and transparency in UIPA activities?
The 2020 Legislature appropriated $4 million for UIPA. How does UIPA foresee spending this funding considering the economic slowdown due to coronavirus?
In light of all of these concerns, the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition demands that the Utah Inland Port Authority Board suspend all of its meetings and other activities until the COVID-19 crisis has passed and public input can resume.