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Weber County inland port proponents defend effort, point to job creation and wetlands plans


OGDEN — Advocates of the Weber County inland port project fielded questions from critics of the plans at a listening session, addressing their concerns and defending the initiative.

Thursday’s gathering comes only days before a meeting of the Utah Inland Port Authority Board on Monday, when the body is to formally consider creation of the inland port area, which would become the ninth in Utah. There were plenty of skeptics among the 50 or so people who took part in the meeting, variously concerned about the project’s environmental impact, the sort of businesses it might draw, the potential threat to endangered species and more.

The Weber County plans call for creation of an 8,785-acre industrial development zone in sparsely populated western Weber County that would become part of Utah’s inland port system. Industrial development, manufacturing and warehousing are envisioned at the inland ports, which are also meant as a mechanism to bolster use of rail to transport goods, reducing truck traffic on Utah roads.

Tackling the questions and criticism at Thursday’s gathering were Weber County Economic Development Director Stephanie Russell, Utah Inland Port Authority Executive Director Ben Hart, Northern Utah Economic Alliance President Chris Roybal and Weber County planner Charlie Ewert. Daniel Stephens, managing partner of BlackPine Group, pursuing development on a 349-acre portion of the larger inland port area, rounded out the panel.

From left, Weber County planner Charlie Ewert, Northern Utah Economic Alliance President Chris Roybal, Utah Inland Port Authority Executive Director Ben Hart and Daniel Stephens with BlackPine Group at a listening session held Thursday in Ogden on the proposed Weber County inland port project.
From left, Weber County planner Charlie Ewert, Northern Utah Economic Alliance President Chris Roybal, Utah Inland Port Authority Executive Director Ben Hart and Daniel Stephens with BlackPine Group at a listening session held Thursday in Ogden on the proposed Weber County inland port project. (Photo: Tim Vandenack, KSL.com)

Here are some points put forward by plan advocates:

The development driver: The underlying document guiding development in the area is the Western Weber General Plan, said Russell, aiming to counter suggestions that state inland port officials would be the key development force.

The Utah Inland Port Authority would be a partner in development, she said, while a county committee would first vet development proposals before forwarding them to state port authority officials for final review. Infrastructure development is a key need in the area, she said, and partnering with the Utah Inland Port Authority would create resources to aid in the efforts.

Wetlands management: Wetlands and other environmental studies would have to be carried out in conjunction with any specific development proposal in the inland port area, if created, said Roybal. He wouldn’t expect much development in wetlands — a big concern for environmentalists — but in any event, the developer would have to mitigate encroachment into wetlands with creation of new wetlands elsewhere.

The inland port area sits near the Great Salt Lake and the Harold Crane and Ogden Bay waterfowl management areas, and wetlands management figured big in the discussion Thursday. Hart said a portion of tax-increment financing generated in the project area, 3%, would go to wetlands protection efforts.

Stephens said plans on the land BlackPine wants to develop call for creation of a 35-acre park in a wetlands area. The developer would pump $1 million into the effort.

Job creation: Roybal touted the inland port project as a job generator for northern Utah that would enable many in Weber and Davis counties to work locally. As is, some 50,000 to 75,000 people travel to the Salt Lake County area for work.

What’s more, development in the area is likely to occur, with or without inland port creation, he said. Two key northern Utah business parks, the Freeport Center in Clearfield and Business Depot Ogden in Ogden, are at or near capacity, and would-be developers and manufacturers need space.

As Roybal sees it, creating the inland port would create a framework for “better, more efficient” development.

Specific businesses that would expand in the inland port area, if created, have yet to be recruited and identified. But Roybal pointed to the sorts of businesses in Business Depot Ogden as a barometer of what to expect — advanced manufacturers and operators in the aerospace and food sectors.

Notwithstanding the responses meant to assuage audience members’ worries, many are still concerned.

Property owners may have rights to develop their land, said Darren Parry, former chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation. “But maybe we should start asking ourselves, ‘Should we?'” he said.

Parry also referenced the potential cultural resources on the land. “Many of my people are buried there. … Think about my people,” he said. Ewert said areas of Native American significance, if recorded with officials, would show up on planning and zoning maps.



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