We had a great turnout and an interesting discussion at our most recent Town Hall meeting on June 8th. We hosted it at the Spanish Fork Library which worked well for our event. Nearly 100 people showed up either in person or virtually to learn more about the proposed inland port near Spanish Fork. The Town Hall was presented as a panel discussion with each panelist taking several minutes to present their view of the port. John Bennion, one of the members of the CUV leadership team, was the moderator and helped organize the whole event.
Ben Hart, the Executive Director of the Utah Inland Port Authority (UIPA) was the first speaker and introduced what the UIPA is all about. He started by talking about the problems with Utah’s dependence on roads. This dependence creates several problems, both economically and environmentally. Ben stated that the goal of the UIPA is to create an effective multi-modal commerce transportation system, especially with a focus on train transportation. If implemented correctly, this plan could significantly reduce the number of trucks traveling on I-15 north of Spanish Fork.
The next speaker was Byron Adams, a professor of Biology at Brigham Young University. Byron spoke about several concerns that he noticed as he reviewed the environmental review which was produced by the UIPA. He focused on four things: the pollution, the impact on those with a lower socioeconomic status, soils, and wetlands. Byron pointed out that the new port was expected to increase both air pollution (ground-level ozone) as well as water pollution because of wastewater discharge. He also noted that lower-income families live closer to the port and therefore would be more negatively affected. Next, he noted that the entire port was located on soils called mollisols. These soils are among the most productive soils in the region, both for agriculture as well as for native wildlife and vegetation. Finally, he discussed the emergent wetlands that would be impacted by the new port. Wetlands are critical habitat for many bird species and they also help store and clean water which provides a large economic benefit.
Shawn Miller, a BYU historian with an emphasis on preserving farmland, spoke next. He chose to focus on conservation easements as a way of protecting the threatened farmland in and around the port. He shared how Utah only has around 30-40 farms that are currently under conservation easements. This is due to a lack of knowledge about the process and a lack of funding for compensating the farmers. Because Utah has limited farmland, Shawn shared that it is important for landowners to have an easy way to preserve their farms “in perpetuity.”
Brandon Gordon, one of the Utah County Commissioners who is from Spanish Fork, spoke on his experiences growing up in the area and the importance of family farms to the culture of Spanish Fork. He shared his experience on the Spanish Fork city council and the growth that they pushed for during that time. He ended his remarks by talking about the difficulty of keeping a balance between farmers who want to keep their land for farming and those who would rather sell it to the highest bidder. Neither position is right or wrong, but they are both important to consider when making decisions.
Dave Anderson, the Community and Economic Development Director of Spanish Fork City spoke next. He explained that Spanish Fork’s partnership with the UIPA had been developing for several months with lots of careful planning and discussion among city leaders before they decided to support creating an inland port there. He saw the port as a very positive thing and something that would help the city continue to be at the forefront of growth. Dave mentioned that Spanish Fork has “never been a bedroom community” and that creating this new inland port made sense with the city’s economic goals. Later on in the meeting, during the Q&A session, Dave mentioned that while they currently supported some version of a port, they weren’t quite sure what economic model they would end up adopting to support it.
The final speaker was Eldon Neves, the President of the Lake-Shore Livestock Association. Eldon was upset about what several of the previous speakers had said and thought that they were spreading false information in order to line their wallets. He shared how passionate he was about cattle ranching and that the land south of the lake needed to be protected. Overall, he was angry that the inland port was going to take some farmland and convert it for industrial use. He also mentioned that it was very unlikely that the port would stop at the current site and would continue to expand and take over all of the farmland.
With this wide variety of perspectives shared about the viability for and reasoning behind building an inland port in Spanish Fork, there were many questions from the audience about different aspects of the inland port. Because of limited time, only a few were answered, but the speakers said at the end that they would be happy to talk more with anyone who reached out to them
- Brandon Gordon, Utah County Commission, BrandonG@utahcounty.gov
- Ben Hart, Executive Director Utah Inland Port Authority (schedule with Taneesa Wright, Marketing and Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Byron Adams, Biology Dept. Chair at BYU, email@example.com
- Shawn Miller, BYU Historian who focuses on protecting and preserving farms, Shawn_Miller@byu.edu
- Dave Anderson, Community and Economic Development Director, Spanish Fork City. firstname.lastname@example.org,
- Eldon Neves, President. Lake-Shore Livestock Association, Owner of Agribusiness near the SF Port Authority
Here are the presentations that Shawn Miller and Byron Adams used: