SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — In a fervent display of concern for the future of wetland areas surrounding the Great Salt Lake Basin, a coalition of community and environmental groups assembled at the Utah State Capitol on Monday. Their central claim revolves around the purported plans of the Utah Inland Port Authority to eliminate crucial wetlands in the region as part of its future development strategies.
Deeda Seed, from the Center for Biological Diversity, expressed frustration over the Port Authority’s alleged dismissal of public input.
“We have tried for months to get the attention of the Port Authority to no avail,” she said. “They are really cutting off public comment, and it’s deeply concerning.”
Dr. Brian Moench, the president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, echoed the sentiment, emphasizing the perceived sacrifice of the environment for industrial development.
“It seems to us as though the state is about ready to adopt a wholesale sacrifice of our environment to industrial development,” he said.
Rally supporters argued that construction of more warehouses and increased development in these sensitive areas will not only harm the already delicate ecosystem of the Great Salt Lake, but will also negatively impact residents along the Wasatch Front.
“When you take wetlands and replace them with asphalt and cement, by the tens of thousands of acres, you’re asking for significant consequences to quality of life, to traffic congestion throughout the Wasatch Front,” Moench said.
Contrarily, Ben Hart, executive director of the Utah Inland Port Authority, highlighted its mission to promote smart growth across the state.
“We realize that across the state of Utah, air quality is an issue,” he said. “Economic growth is a concern in rural parts of the state. The wrong types of growth are concerns in certain parts of the state. So, a lot of what fits within the mission of the port is: How do we help Utah grow smarter?”
In response to allegations from rally supporters, Hart said the port authority’s projects are not going to destroy wetlands, adding that the rally groups have it wrong.
“I think we’ve got a group that’s trying to confuse the public,” he said. “Because we are not going to be destroying … any wetlands with our project areas.”
Hart further asserted that a new wetlands policy, under development for several months, will be adopted by the Port Authority on Monday.
“We’ve been working with a lot of different stakeholder groups to make sure that we get it right,” Hart said, adding that the policy was sent to the Department of Natural Resources and a number of duck clubs.
The wetlands policy was open to public comment for 45 days before being presented to the board.
Hart noted: “We’ve been working with numerous stakeholder groups, and unfortunately, the group here today didn’t provide any feedback, even though I reached out personally to them, which tells me their concern is probably more with publicity than actually protecting the lake.”
Hart emphasized the Port Authority’s commitment to protecting the Great Salt Lake and stated, “The reality is we are very invested in protecting the lake.”