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Weber County holds listening session amid concerns over inland port plans

By Ryan Aston - | May 17, 2024

Photo supplied, Rhonda Lauritzen

An undated photo of wetlands within the Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area, which is adjacent to the planned development area for the West Weber inland port.

OGDEN — On Monday, the Utah Inland Port Authority will consider the creation of an inland port area along the West Weber corridor. In advance of that meeting, representatives from Weber County, the UIPA and others participated in a listening session with members of the community Thursday evening.

That session — held within the Weber County Commission chambers — served as an attempt by the county and the various stakeholders in the West Weber Inland Port Project Area to address perceived issues and clarify what leaders say are the port plan’s more complicated or misunderstood aspects.

Citizens have expressed concern over the potential environmental/ecological impact of the proposed port, which covers an area of approximately 9,000 acres, as well as the process that led to the adoption of the county’s development plan and the proposed division of tax revenue generated as a result of area development.

“My heart just sank that there’s an inland port being proposed here,” Rhonda Lauritzen of Hooper told the Standard-Examiner prior to the listening session. “When I heard what was proposed, like I literally almost cried on the spot. I’m just heartbroken to see it because there’s no buffer. It is exactly right next to the bird refuge.”

Lauritzen’s concern about the wetlands and wildlife present within the development area — as well as its proximity to the Ogden Bay and Harold Crane waterfowl management areas — echo those of the 250 county citizens who signed a formal petition asking the county to hit the pause button on developments plans.

During the listening session, Darren Perry — former chairman of the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation — also expressed concern over the area’s cultural significance and native burial grounds.

However, Stephanie Russell — Weber County’s economic development director — said that the county has taken steps to ensure that any development that occurs is done in a responsible and sustainable manner.

“We are pro-environmentalism,” Russell told the Standard-Examiner prior to the session. “Our goal is to create a sustainable environment for generations to come.”

It was noted by Russell during the listening session that the property within the project area is held by private landowners, and it was further noted that the land is unincorporated. As such, any development that might have occurred would have been done at the sole discretion of those property holders.

In order to guide development of the corridor, the county devised its West Weber general plan. The county asserts that by establishing the plan as the governing document for the inland port and other development, and also by vetting all proposed projects, environmental and economic concerns can be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Russell also added that all applicable regulations related to the environment, wildlife and zoning must be adhered to by developers.

“They have to go through our committee,” Russell said. “We can’t bring out businesses that are going to contaminate the air. … Relative to wetlands, any type of industry that wants to go out and develop out there, they have to go through a delineation process with the Army Corps of Engineers. They have to comply with our local wetlands code, the state wetlands code, the federal government’s wetlands code.”

Meanwhile, Charles Ewert — Weber County’s principal planner — stated during the session that native heritage areas have been considered as prescribed by the county’s resource management plan. He also invited those concerned about unrecorded areas of cultural significance to provide information regarding those locations.

Another point of contention with the port project has been the division of property tax revenue between the county and UIPA/developers, with the latter having access to as much as 75% of those funds.

According to Russell, though, rates can be negotiated for individual projects, and the deal with UIPA has a 25-year term and also includes out clauses.

“They’re not always going to get 75%,” Russell said. “They might get 10%. They might get 50%. That’s all negotiable. Each deal is negotiable. … At any given time, we can say, ‘No, you guys are not doing what you said you were going to do.'”

Russell also stressed that the county isn’t ceding its power to the state through its collaboration with UIPA.

“(UIPA) is just another stakeholder. They’re not the driver. The driver is the West Weber general plan,” she said.

Still, a level of public trepidation persists, and citizens like Lauritzen remain critical of county officials for what they perceive to be a lack of transparency in the process.

“The timing is such that the port authority is meeting two business days after this listening session,” Lauritzen said. “That means there is no public dialogue or opportunity to influence the process, that the train is already moving. And the concern among citizens like me is that the listening session is window dressing.”

The proposed West Weber Project Area Plan can be viewed online at https://tinyurl.com/36c44wzu.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the size of the proposed inland port development, which is planned to be approximately 9,000 acres.

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