Utah Inland Port wants 9,000 acres for concrete and asphalt projects in Weber County next to Great Salt Lake

Residents have issued their own warning about what could be permanently lost.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Weber County property is slated to become an inland port on Friday, April 5, 2024.

Weber County boasts some of the most breathtaking scenery and views in the state of Utah. Now the Utah Inland Port Authority is poised to convert nearly 9,000 acres of largely undeveloped land near the endangered Great Salt Lake and the Harold Crane and Ogden Bay waterfowl sanctuaries into industrial concrete and asphalt projects.

More than 2,000 years ago in ancient Greece, the storyteller Aesop issued a warning that is ignored at one's peril. He told of a farmer who had a wonderful goose that laid a golden egg every day. The farmer became rich, but he just had to have more. One day his greed and impatience got the better of him because he wasn't getting rich fast enough. He killed the goose to dig up all the eggs inside it. Unfortunately there were none as she could only lay one per day. And now his beautiful goose was dead.

The residents of western Weber County have beautiful golden eggs – wetlands, open spaces, wildlife habitat, clear skies, peace and tranquility – riches by anyone's definition. But UIPA and the Weber County Commission, which voted to support UIPA's plans, seek their fortunes in different ways.

The residents are fighting back. They have themselves warned of what could be permanently lost and called for the final decision to be put on hold until the implications are fully studied and more citizens are made aware.

The statement said: “This project area cedes local control and budgetary authority to a state-appointed board. Various groups from across the political spectrum are calling on Weber County to examine the full impacts, including the budgetary burden on local taxpayers, the attraction of heavy truck traffic to an area where it currently does not exist, bright lighting, destruction of… Wetlands, invaluable noise and attractive sources of air pollution.”

John Valentine, head of the Utah Tax Commission, spoke about a different kind of golden egg at a recent meeting of the Utah Taxpayer Association. This golden egg is our tax base, which we use to fund schools, parks, road repairs, emergency services, fire and police protection.

According to Fox13 News, Valentine warned, “Some of the projects we have passed in the state are undermining the tax base through sales tax diversion and tax increment financing.” He cited the inland port as an example.

UIPA's Weber County Inland Port Project will retain 75% of all property and sales taxes for use at the board's discretion and return only 25% of those revenues to local governments.

In other words, UIPA and developers will build the port, but government agencies will only have 25% to provide critical services. UIPA will build infrastructure, but will not maintain it.

Rusty Cannon, president of the Taxpayers Association, himself warned of projects that would add up over decades.

“It's just death by a thousand cuts. “It’s coming, and it’s starting to erode our tax base,” he said.

This could result in increased taxes for the portion of the county that is not in the project area.

At a meeting in February, Weber County commissioners questioned whether 25% would be enough to provide all needed services. Scott Wolford, vice president of the Utah Inland Port Authority's business development team, stated, “We don't have to get it right today. We'll just go with our best guess. We will adapt over the course of 25 years.”

He assured commissioners that they could later vote to remove a specific parcel from the Inland Port project area if the tax structure doesn't work. All they need to do, he said, is to ask the UIPA board: “Please remove this from the project area and our board will remove it.”

However, Wolford acknowledged that there are no legal protections for Weber County and that the five-member, appointed board has final authority. He made an unwritten promise based solely on his word that UIPA's decisions could be easily reversed.

He also put pressure on a quick decision by reporting that we had “stacked a lot of communities for project areas” so Weber County could lose its place on the list.

If UIPA approves the project at its meeting on Monday, it looks like it and the taxpayer-subsidized developers will keep the magic goose. Once she is dead, her bones will be returned to humans.

You cannot bring a dead goose back to life, and you cannot restore acres of land taken away from future generations and destroyed forever.

Aesop always gave us the moral of his stories for those of us who don't get the point. “Those who have a lot want more and thus lose everything they have.”

Ann Florence taught English and journalism and now teaches therapeutic poetry at the Youth Resource Center for unsheltered young people. She finds solitude, healing and inspiration in nature.

Ann Florence teaches therapeutic poetry at the Youth Resource Center and believes that a connection to the land is essential for all of us, especially young people, to thrive.

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