The conservation plan’s focus on Western Weber County wetlands as the inland harbor proposal moves forward

OGDEN – Officials with the Utah Inland Port Authority have issued guidelines specifically intended to protect western Weber County’s wetlands as plans for a sprawling industrial development zone in the area continue to evolve.

The plans have raised environmental concerns in Weber County and across Utah, and Inland Port officials unveiled the draft strategy last week as a vote on whether to move forward with the western Weber County initiative looms. The proposed Weber County Inland Port project — which includes industrial development adjacent to the western 12th Street corridor and a Union Pacific rail line — covers an expanse of 8,785 largely undeveloped acres near the Great Salt Lake and the Harold Crane and Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Areas.

Environmentalists have spoken out against Weber County’s plans and other inland port projects. They worry that development resulting from the Weber County project could harm wetlands in the project area and the Great Salt Lake ecosystem. Nevertheless, Ben Hart, executive director of the Utah Inland Port Authority, said Monday that the area would be better protected by allowing development under the Inland Port schedule, with the proposed wetland strategy, than by allowing development to occur outside the Inland Port parameters.

“We have a lot of confidence in that,” he said. The West Weber inland port project is the focus of a public question-and-answer session taking place Thursday in Ogden. The Utah Inland Port Authority Board is expected to decide whether to formally move forward with Weber County’s plans at a May 20 meeting in Salt Lake City.

Inland port officials have established broad guidelines for the development of inland ports in wetland areas. Given the special environmental sensitivity of the Weber County project area, Hart said, they created the new guidelines specific to Weber County.

“The port will not support any development or construction that would result in the destruction of wetlands. The Port has and will continue to work with landowners who own properties with identified, existing or potential wetlands and ensure they complete the required due diligence,” the draft plan reads.

More specifically, Hart said developers would not be able to take advantage of the tax credits available under the inland port scheme unless they agree to protect wetlands within their land portfolios, as determined by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The plan also calls for the creation of buffer zones around certain “vulnerable areas” where inland port development is not possible.

The broader wetlands guidelines require that 1% of all tax increases in inland port areas be reserved for wetland protection efforts. Under the plans specific to Weber County, 3% of the tax dollars generated in the project area would be set aside, which Hart said could generate $10 to $11 million over 20 to 25 years.

“The Port has no regulatory authority over the land use of this project area, but can decide how to spend its funds and will not use the funds in a manner that promotes or finances the destruction of wetlands. The Port wants to ensure that development never takes precedent over the environmentally sensitive areas in this area,” the draft plan for Weber County reads.

Thursday’s question-and-answer session begins at 6 p.m. and will be held at the Weber Center, where many district offices are housed, at 2380 Washington Blvd. in Ogden. The May 20 Utah Inland Port Authority Board of Directors meeting begins at 1 p.m. and will be held in Room 445 of the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City.