(FOX 13)

SALT LAKE CITY — Carbon County isn't mining coal anymore.

FOX 13 News reported last year the county, named for its coal riches, has mined its last mine as a result of declining demand for the fossil fuel.

"Carbon County has been in the coal mining business for over 130 years," said county commissioner Larry Jensen. "Today, there is no coal being produced in Carbon County."

To replace lost jobs and lure new industries to the area, Carbon and nearby Emery County are trying to bring in an inland port.

"When the Utah Inland Port Authority approached us about partnering with Emery County... there’s a desire out there as well with power plant closures, expiration dates and mine closures," said Shanny Wilson, the economic development director for Carbon County. "We really wanted to help our neighbors as well."

The two counties this week pitched the Utah Inland Port Authority Board on the idea of the "Castle Country Inland Port." Three locations have been identified near Price and Green River.

"The partnership we hope we can develop with the Utah Inland Port Authority, we may help move that forward in a positive and help us get off the ground with our efforts to try to diversify with what we’re doing," Commissioner Jensen told the board.

The inland port has been billed as one of the largest economic development projects in state history. Designed to bypass coastal ports, the industrial hubs move goods through a region by rail, road and air. But they're very controversial. The Salt Lake City inland port site was besieged by protests with criticism about the impact to the environment and a lack of transparency. In recent years, the Utah Inland Port Authority has shifted its efforts away from the Wasatch Front to rural areas, where they are desired because of the development and jobs a port project can bring.

"The only thing Green River exports is our children," Green River City Manager Tyler Hunt told the port authority board on Monday. "Our city’s economic backbone is tourism, and while I won’t turn down tourism? It is clear it should not be the backbone of our economy but instead a support to our local economy."

But details of the project are unclear, said Deeda Seed of the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition, which has opposed the inland ports.

"The real concern I think is, what’s the plan here? And it’s just not clear that they have a plan so then what happens is you’re engaged in speculative development that will benefit a few private developers with public resources," she told FOX 13 News on Wednesday. "That should be a concern for taxpayers everywhere."

Seed also raised concerns about the impact on the Green River itself, which is a tributary of the endangered Colorado River.

"The inland port has done really an abysmal job at looking at the impact of this fast tracked, subsidized industrial development on water resources," she told FOX 13 News on Wednesday.

If approved, the Castle Country project would be the 10th inland port site in Utah. Earlier this week, the port authority board approved a site in western Weber County that drew protests because it is very close to the Great Salt Lake. Environmentalists have also threatened litigation over it.

But the Utah Inland Port Authority Board seems inclined to expand into Carbon and Emery counties. The port authority has insisted its development projects will be more environmentally friendly.

"Fifty jobs means a lot to your community and that’s the mission of the port, is to bring jobs back to the communities where we have locations and create that logistics network that’s so important and so vital to a community," Abby Osborne, the board's chair, told Carbon County leaders. "This is exactly what we look for as a board. To be off the Wasatch Front, be in communities working with you collaboratively to grow your economic development the way you want to grow it, that’s right for the people that want to stay in your counties and remain citizens of your counties but also want to go to your counties for work."

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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