CEDAR CITY, Utah — The Utah Inland Port Authority is proposing dedicating some of its funding and land mass in Salt Lake City to wetland preservation along the Great Salt Lake.

The port authority's executive director made the announcement in an interview with FOX 13 News, following his appearance at Governor Spencer Cox's One Utah Summit in Cedar City.

"It's not just the potential to try and help, it will be a requirement from the Inland Port Authority to help with wetlands and really help contribute back to Salt Lake City," Utah Inland Port Authority Executive Director Ben Hart said. "We hope it's a very robust policy. It’s just one of many actions we’ll be taking to help try and stabilize not just the lake, but really important wetlands around the lake as well."

Pressed about the wetland policy, Hart said the proposal would be to take some funding from projects around the state and set aside land for wetlands and buffers between the inland port itself and the Great Salt Lake. Hart described them as "high quality wetlands."

The port project — a massive import-export center designed to get goods and services around the region quickly — has been controversial since its inception largely because of environmental concerns with air pollution and its proximity to the Great Salt Lake. The lake, which dropped to a record low last year, presents its own ecological crisis for the state with toxic dust storms, reduced snowpack, impacts to Utah's economy and harms to public health and wildlife.

Details of the wetlands proposal are expected to be discussed at the port authority's meeting scheduled for Wednesday. It was those details that critics of the inland port said they would be anxious to hear.

"Devil's in the details as they say," Deeda Seed, a member of the Stop the Polluting Ports Coalition, said in a text message to FOX 13 News.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall has advocated for the creation of a preserve area to act as a buffer between the inland port and related development and the Great Salt Lake. Her proposal is currently before the Salt Lake City Council.

In recent years, the inland port project has focused on expansion in rural Utah communities — some of whom have actively courted becoming "hubs." But opponents say some of those hubs still have environmental concerns. On Tuesday, the group objected to proposed port locations in Tooele and Grantsville.

"The Stop the Polluting Ports Coalition is calling on UIPA not to approve these project areas as there’s no comprehensive economic analysis of the benefits to Tooele County and Grantsville residents, and no analysis of the environmental and community harms that will come with these taxpayer subsidized projects," the group said in a statement.

But Hart signaled the wetlands policy being offered up might win over some critics. He said the Inland Port Authority intended to purchase wetlands and land to create new wetland spaces.

"Those who hate us may not be able to hate us too much longer," Hart said.

Fox 13 Reporter
Ben Winslow is FOX 13's reporter on Capitol Hill covering a wide variety of topics including politics, polygamy, vice and courts. He has been in the news business in Utah for more than 20 years now, working in radio, newspaper, television and digital news. Winslow has received numerous honors for his reporting, including a national Edward R. Murrow award; the Religion Newswriters Association Local TV News Report of the Year; the Utah Broadcaster's Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Readers of Salt Lake City Weekly and Q Salt Lake have named him their "Best TV news reporter" for many years now. He co-hosts "Utah Booze News: An Alcohol Policy Podcast," covering the state's often confusing and quirky liquor laws. Winslow is also known for his very active Twitter account keeping Utahns up-to-date on important news.

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