Note: This story was originally published on Voices of Utah on March 20, 2019. It has been edited, not for content, but to fit CATALYST’s style.
Elitzer stood in the doorway of Franklin Elementary School’s gym on Feb. 28.
That evening, the gym hosted a panel about the proposed inland port that is to be built in Salt Lake County. She was watching the proceedings, but not participating in the questioning.
“I wish they would do something in Spanish,” says Elitzer, who asked that her last name not be used. She speaks English well, but it’s not her first language. Spanish is much more comfortable for her.
She is just one of many Latinx people who live near the proposed site for Utah’s “inland port” but know very little about it — even though this port could affect them the most, for better or for worse.
The site heavily overlaps with Utah House District 23. This district belongs to Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City. It also has the highest Latino population in the state, with 47 percent of the district identifying as Hispanic or Latino, according to the demographic profile of the district.
An inland port is, essentially, a dry port. It is a place for trucks, planes and trains to meet to exchange and deliver cargo. In the age of online shopping and one-day shipping, a junction like this is helpful.
In the 2018 legislative session, the state passed a bill that would provide funding for an inland port to be built in northern Utah. This inland port is to be built in the northwest quadrant of Salt Lake County, west of Interstate 215 and on both sides of Interstate 80. The area is just north of 2700 South and creeps toward the Great Salt Lake. This would put the port near Salt Lake International Airport and the Union Pacific Rail line, according to the boundary map.
In the most recent development in this story, Salt Lake City Mayor, Jackie Biskupski, has filed a lawsuit against the Inland Port Authority (IPA).
Hollins has concerns about the port. She worries that increased truck, plane and train traffic could mean worse air quality.
Questions about how transparent the IPA has been in this process have come up. It has held many meetings that are closed to the public. Hollins says she doesn’t feel like the IPA has been listening to the public as it should.
The state representative does recognize there is good that could come from the port.
A provision in the Inland Port Bill requires part of the funding for the project to go toward affordable housing. The inland port also, of course, could provide potential job growth for the nearby communities, including House District 23.
According to the demographic profile, Hollins’ district has many people who work in construction and the service industry. This port could create more jobs in those areas.
Thomas Wadsworth, director of corporate growth and business development for the Governor’s office, reported at the meeting on Feb. 28 that there are incentives in place that would encourage businesses to provide wages at least 110 percent of the average wage in that industry in Salt Lake County.
However, Hollins expresses that she is concerned about how good those jobs will be. An incentive is not a guarantee. And even if these jobs provide livable wages, there is no promise that there will be room for the employees to grow and move up in the company.
The question that Hollins asks for the good of her constituents is, “Do the economic benefits outweigh the ecological problems?”
The IPA is aware that not everyone supports the port. Envision Utah, a group dedicated to helping Utah grow in a healthy way, has been hired to run public meetings and report back how people are feeling.
These meetings have been well attended. But most of the attendees at the Feb. 28 meeting were white. Even though the neighborhoods closest to the port are heavily Latinx, few of those residents are seen at this meeting.
Elitzer, the Latina woman who was there that night, said this was the first meeting about the inland port that she had attended.
She had heard about it through Hollins when Elitzer had taken a trip to the capitol with her West Side Leadership Institute class. Before that, she didn’t know about the port. Hearing about it now alarmed her.
She has a daughter who is asthmatic. She said she wants her daughter to be able to play outside and run around with the other kids. Utah already struggles with poor air quality. Increased air pollution could keep Elitzer’s little girl from being able to do that.
The potential for worse air quality near their home makes Elitzer worry, not just for her daughter, but for other children as well. She had recently been to Primary Children’s Hospital and seeing all those children who have similar afflictions as her daughter broke her heart. “They shouldn’t have to live like that,” she said.
It was pointed out during the meeting that the inland port could provide job growth for the community. Elizter just shook her head. “We can get other jobs, in a healthy way,” she said.
Elitzer wants to make a difference in her community. Learning about this port is part of that. She plans to share this information with her friends, family and neighbors. She thinks that they need to know.
She believes that this inland port project is just focused on money. She said she also feels that the IPA does not care about what the people nearest the project think. If it did, Elitzer points out, wouldn’t it have provided some information in Spanish?
Katherine Rogers is an intern at CATALYST magazine and a senior communications major at the University of Utah. She is also a student journalist for Voices of Utah.