IN THE NEWS

29 September 2020

  • Utah County-based company Pollen Sense providing real-time data for seasonal allergy sufferers
    Nathan Allan, CTO of Pollen Sense, describes the company’s new pollen app and sensing tools that are capable of giving real time information at the firm’s Provo offices on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

    PROVO — Those with seasonal allergies no longer have to be left in the dust, according to one Utah company.

    While anyone can find hour-by-hour weather updates and forecasts with the swipe of a screen, data about pollen levels and content has traditionally been based on 24-hour averages from stations where pollen particles are counted manually, said Landon Bunderson, CEO of Utah County-based Pollen Sense.

    Bunderson himself did some of that counting while studying airborne allergens at the University of Tulsa, he said.

    “I almost went blind staring into a microscope counting pollen one by one,” Bunderson recalled. “I can’t even think of anything else that is still counted manually... any other parameter in air quality has an automated sensor.”

    According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, allergies are the sixth leading chronic condition in the U.S — and hay fever affects 6.1 million children and 20 million adults.

    “For me, the inspiration was two things. I have seasonal allergies and there are no solutions out there, no real solutions for people who need good information,” Bunderson said.

    “Historically, those 24-hour averages have done a huge disservice to the general allergy sufferers’ understanding of pollen.... They report pollen by saying, ‘Today is going to be high, today is going to medium,’” he explained.

    Pollen peaks at different times in the middle of the day and fluctuates throughout the day, Bunderson said, so it’s helpful for those with allergies to know when the levels will be the highest and when to avoid outside activity to prevent symptoms.

    About a year ago, the company launched its app Pollen Wise, which offers indexes for several categories of allergens including mold, weeds, trees and grass. The app tells users how high the pollen levels are in their area, and the levels expected throughout the day.

    “You can actually see current conditions right now,” Bunderson said.

    In order to power the app, the company developed a sensor which draws in air and captures all of the particles on a sticky substance, Bunderson said. The sensor then uses an automated camera with a microscope apparatus that autofocuses and takes pictures of the particles. The machine continuously samples and counts pollen particles. The team had to develop complex algorithms to sample the air and get the focusing right, and they used machine-learning algorithms to differentiate between pollen particles, Bunderson said.

    He says nothing similar to the hour-by-hour data Pollen Wise provides exists on the market, though experimental tools have been developed in Europe.

    The company has placed a network of 90 sensors in the U.S. The app provides relevant data to those within 40 miles of a sensor, Bunderson said, and the company is working to build a large network of sensors throughout the country to provide more accurate data.

    The most dense network of Pollen Wise sensors exists in Utah, where there is one in Sandy, one in Salt Lake City, one in Logan, three in Utah County and one in St. George, Bunderson said.

    Manual counting, however, is still considered the “gold standard” for pollen counts, Bunderson said. The Pollen Wise team compares data from its sensors to that of manual counting stations daily. While data gathered by the sensors is “very comparable” to that of counting stations, the sensors are “extremely good” at detecting certain types of pollen and “just OK” at others, according to Bunderson.

    “The device is growing up really fast. We’ve implemented three new versions to continuously improve it, so it’s getting better and better, but already it’s comparable with the manual stations,” Bunderson explained.

    He said the team envisions the tool eventually eliminating the need for manual counting stations, as well as becoming a resource where allergy sufferers can find hourly data, talk about their allergies with others, and find information that as of now is dispersed throughout the internet.

    While the app is free, Bunderson said the company plans to eventually implement a paid service that, using algorithms, will help users discover what they’re allergic to and which adjustments they need to make to reduce their symptoms, and offer an allergy coach service.

    Bunderson said the response to the app has been “really positive” so far.

    “We have people downloading the app like crazy just through word of mouth, and we’ll have these interesting things where there will be somebody in a city that will find out about it, and all of a sudden we have hundreds of downloads every day in one little city,” Bunderson said.

    He said the company is hearing stories from app users who say they feel empowered by the information as “there’s a certain power in knowing what’s in the air, but having a sensor near you and having that information can arm you with what you need to make decisions about your day.”

    For more information, visit pollensense.com.

  • Housing market at record hot level this summer
    Homes near completion at C.W. Farms, an Ivory Homes development in Magna, on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

    SALT LAKE CITY — In the wake of some record-setting heatwaves this past summer, the Salt Lake Valley’s housing market was also mirroring that blazing-hot streak.

    The demand for new housing stock has risen to historic levels.

    A big upward trend in the national housing market has continued based on the latest new home sales data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The figures show new single-family home sales up 43.2% year over year in September.

    A report from Robert Charles Lesser and Co., a data analytics and strategic planning firm for the real estate industry, states increased market demand is being driven by low interest rates for homebuyers, demographic shifts, along with changing consumer attitudes about where they choose to reside in the era of the new coronavirus.

    The report notes that given the fact there is just a 3.3-month supply of new homes available, the current pace of robust sales may not sustainable in the long term.

    Considering various factors, including the current sales pace, rising lumber costs and availability of suitable land, there are strong indications that demand for new housing will remain high. However, builders may have trouble keeping up, one Utah observer said.

    Jaren Davis, CEO of the Salt Lake Home Builders Association, said demand for new housing has been overwhelming producers’ capacity to provide units, particularly as more and more people choose to make the Beehive State their home.

    While the influx of new residents is a major driver in the demand for housing, he said keeping up the supply is also an ongoing challenge.

    “The existing house inventory is readily available and the transaction occurs (immediately),” he said. “But in new construction, there isn’t a lot of spec housing out there, meaning the builders built something waiting for the buyers to come in. So what happens when the consumer comes into our assets, they actually agree to a longer term buildout. They’re looking at a plat map, identifying a lot that they want and then getting on a schedule for the construction and that oftentimes would take as long as six months.”

    He added that the build-out phases could also be long if the home is larger or has specific features that require more time to construct. The robust demand has also put more pressure on builders to produce a greater volume at a high rate.

    The high demand is straining the existing home market as well. The Salt Lake Board of Realtors reported that sales in Salt Lake County for July were the highest on record in the history of the Multiple Listing Service — more than 2,100 sales. It was the first time sales eclipsed the 2,000 mark. Sales last month were also up slightly, the report states.

    Meanwhile, Davis noted that the construction industry was designated as an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has allowed builders to continue producing much needed housing stock.

    “You still had that mindset for the social distancing. In our industry, we naturally social distance, the framers aren’t standing next to the plumbers — they’re coming in at different times and they’re standing in different parts of the home,” Davis explained. “We absorbed that fallout from those first months (of the pandemic), had some slowdown in the construction and they’re now back up to full steam.”

    He said even at full capacity, the industry still cannot keep up with the demand from prospective buyers.

    “If we could build enough inventory for the demand, we would probably be twice as busy,” he said. “Existing housing follows new construction. If there isn’t enough inventory in new construction, prices go up. Because of our lack of ability to meet that demand, prices are pushed upward because there is a shortage of inventory.”

    He said those rising prices are putting tremendous pressure on affordability across the Wasatch Front.

    Analysts contend the high demand has been exacerbated by the lack of existing home inventory for sale. Dejan Eskic, senior research associate at the University of Utah’s Kem Gardner Institute, said the pandemic prompted many potential sellers out of the market due to fears raised during the initial outbreak in the spring.

    “We’ve seen a lot of existing for-sale inventory pull back, so we’re about 52% or so behind where we are usually with existing sales inventory this time of year and throughout the summer,” he said, “That’s created a kind of bottleneck. You have this pent up demand who want to buy, but they have nowhere to go.

    “You have the global health pandemic issues as well, people are not comfortable having people walk into their homes,” Eskic said. “They don’t want to move in a pandemic, so that’s preventing them from putting their house on the market as well. You’re seeing this in our market and across the nation, we’re really short on existing home sales.”

    Regarding affordability, he said Utah faces the daunting prospect of becoming like California is today where many residents cannot afford to rent or buy based on their typical household wages.

    “Really, it comes down to income. Between 2013 and 2018 — that five-year period, income (in Utah) has gone up 18% while housing prices have gone up over 65%,” Eskic said. “In comparison, if we go back to this May and April when this whole thing started, the median price of a single-family home in the state of Utah was about $365,000, now it’s $399,000. That’s about 9% in just five to six months.”

    He said civic leaders need to work on some possible solutions or risk the situation worsening.

  • Utah’s new medical marijuana program more popular than officials expected
    Pharmacist Nadia Lian explains different products to a customer at Curaleaf, a cannabis dispensary, in Lehi on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

    SALT LAKE CITY — Six months after medical marijuana became legal for purchase inside Utah for the first time, the program has already surpassed enrollment projections.

    But high demand has also led to shortages in both product and providers interested in recommending medical marijuana to patients.

    “It’s been going. It’s been going well, as with all new programs and people starting and really pushing to get up and going like they did early on — and now (producers) are starting to find their traction to be able to keep moving forward,” said Cody James, manager of the Utah Department of Agriculture’s Industrial Hemp and Medical Cannabis Program.

    “I don’t think that anybody had an idea as to the number of patients that Utah was going to see this early.... I think we’re exceeding all of the studies that we had on the number of patients,” James said.

    Utah voters approved a ballot initiative in November 2018 legalizing doctor-approved marijuana treatment for certain health conditions. State lawmakers the next month replaced the measure with a law they say puts tighter controls on the production, distribution and use of the drug. Utah’s Medical Cannabis Act then went through multiple changes in subsequent legislative sessions before the program launched this March.

    Now, 10,000 active medical cannabis patients have received medical marijuana cards — a number state officials said they didn’t expect to reach until one year into the program, said Richard Oborn, director of the Center for Medical Cannabis.

    Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
    Cannabis infused gummies are for sale at Curaleaf, a cannabis dispensary, in Lehi on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020.

    “And this means fewer residents in Utah are possessing medical cannabis illegally,” Oborn noted. “These are people that are suffering from qualifying illnesses such as chronic pain and cancer, epilepsy, MS, terminal illnesses. So that’s exciting to see that there’s more people that are not having to take their medication in the shadows anymore.”

    Hiccups that occurred with the patient portal through which patients register early on have been corrected, making for a smoother sign-up process, Oborn said. He said people in Utah are also consulting with doctors and pharmacists about medical cannabis “more than they ever have.”

    About 220 minors under age 21 have also received cards after getting approved by a compassionate use board. The majority of those petitions have been approved, he said.

    Utah County cards

    A few thousand more patients without medical marijuana cards, meanwhile, have also been purchasing marijuana with a recommendation letter from their own medical provider, which the law allows them to do through 2020. But as the new year approaches, officials expect many more will apply for patient cards from the state.

    Interestingly, more patient cards have been issued in Utah County — 3,600 — than in any other county. Salt Lake County has about 2,400 patients with medical cannabis cards, Weber County has 854, and Davis County has 787. There’s at least one cardholder in each of Utah’s counties.

    About 460 medical providers have also registered with the program. But nine counties don’t yet have a qualified medical provider who can recommend marijuana in 2021, when recommendation letters no longer work, Oborn said.

    He said it’s possible more people in Utah County have applied for their medical cannabis card than in Salt Lake County because the first pharmacy opened in Salt Lake City. Many patients purchased medical cannabis there at the beginning of the program with only a recommendation letter.

    “We believe there’s a high number of those patients that have not yet converted to a medical cannabis card, that they are continuing until the end of the year to rely on just their letter,” Oborn said. It’s also possible that there are also more residents in Salt Lake County who choose to possess illegally and purchase on the black market, he added.

    To legally purchase medical marijuana in the state, patients need to receive a recommendation from a qualified medical provider who has registered with the Utah Department of Health. They then need to create an online account with the state and submit an application. After their application gets approved, patients must pay a $15 initial fee to receive their medical cannabis card. They then need to pay a 90-day renewal fee of $5 and a six-month renewal fee of $15.

    Qualifying conditions include HIV, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, cancer, cachexia, persistent nausea that isn’t related to pregnancy, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and any terminal illness with life expectancy less than six months. Those without a qualifying condition can petition the Compassionate Use Board for special approval.

    Smoking medical cannabis is not legal in Utah. It can be purchased in the form of a capsule, tablet, concentrated oil, sublingual, transdermal or topical preparation, a gelatinous cube, or unprocessed flower.

    Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
    A topical balm and tinctures are for sale at Curaleaf, a cannabis dispensary, in Lehi on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020.

    Medical cannabis users can’t possess more than 113 grams by weight of unprocessed cannabis flower or marijuana drug paraphernalia.

    Challenges

    The law requires cannabis sold in Utah to be grown in-state, as transporting the Schedule 1 drug across state lines creates additional legal complications.

    Also due to marijuana being federally illegal, it must be purchased with cash. If the federal law is ever changed, it would drive down costs and reduce complications, Oborn noted.

    “Some of the challenges that I think we’ve seen throughout the beginning of the program and just these first six months, I think a lot of them are caused just by the fact that medical cannabis continues to be federally illegal. So because of that, a number of challenges have come up, and these are happening in other states but I think they’re especially true in a state that just barely begins,” Oborn said.

    After the eight cultivators allowed by state law were announced in July 2019, they each needed to work with local governments to meet requirements and show a business license from their city to the agriculture department before getting started.

    Cannabis takes between 90 and 100 days to grow.

    It then takes a few months longer to process and test the product, James noted.

    In March, the first medical marijuana pharmacy opened in Salt Lake City. Six of the 14 pharmacies allowed by the law are now open — one each in Salt Lake City, North Logan, South Ogden, West Bountiful, Provo and Lehi. In the next few months, pharmacies are expected to open in central and southern Utah.

    Curaleaf in Lehi — one of the most recent medical marijuana pharmacies to open — is already serving 600 active patients, according to company officials.

    Curaleaf describes itself as the largest cannabis operator in the country. When asked how Utah’s market compares to those of other states, Stuart Wilcox, senior vice president of business development for Curaleaf, said: “The Utah Department of Health works well with the industry to serve over 15,000 patients in Utah, which is a huge benefit for the health and well-being of the community.

    “Utah’s competitive environment is excellent with industry competitors working together to educate and increase patient awareness,” Wilcox said.

    With higher-than-anticipated demand, shortages of certain marijuana products like raw flower have cropped up.

    “Initially product supply was limited, resulting in the delayed opening of our pharmacy. We have good suppliers in the state which are starting to get the quantity of product to meet our patient demands,” Wilcox said.

    “Our concern is the type of cannabinoids available from the type of plants growing with existing cultivators in the state. The Department of Agriculture has been extremely supportive to place pressure on cultivators to produce more products and expand the variety of plants,” he added.

    While it may be frustrating for some patients who expect to buy their medicine and find that it’s out of stock, “this is an issue we knew upfront we would be dealing with,” said Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, a patient advocacy nonprofit that has been involved with drafting the law.

    Many patients share the perspective of “how amazing it is that we were able to get this law changed at all and if we’re just patient a little, some of these problems will smooth out and the long-term prospects of this program are bright,” according to Boyack.

    The demand has led growers to invest in growing a larger crop, some of them using their limit of a 100,000 square foot growing area, James said. A much larger crop will be available starting in winter and into the new year, he said.

    “I think that the second year will have bigger grows as far as production, and I think we’ll see better product out there and hopefully be able to meet those demands,” James said.

    Patient feedback

    “Like the launch of any brand-new industry, the birthing of a new medical cannabis program in Utah has not been without its speed bumps and obstacles, but overall the program launch has gone fairly well,” Boyack said.

    Many patients are still struggling to find a doctor willing to recommend medical marijuana to them because in order to become an approved provider, doctors need to pay a $100 initial fee and participate in a four-hour training session with the Utah Department of Health.

    “It’s hard to make it worth a doctor’s while to invest that amount of time and expense for a single patient. And so these patients often then have to go try to find another doctor and often that’s out of their insurance network and it’s out of pocket, and so that has been a struggle for many patients,” he said.

    Libertas Institute is working with other stakeholders and legislators to find solutions that could be weighed during the next legislative session, including increasing the patient limit for doctors.

    Oborn agreed that legislators will likely address the patient limit.

    “I think what the beginning of the program has shown is that there’s a need for a higher volume of providers to recommend medical cannabis, because there are a number of patients that want to access it and the providers, it could be a hurdle for the providers,” Oborn said.

    “There are a few of the providers that have reached their limit as to the number of patients that they can recommend to, and they want to be able to recommend to more patients, but the current law limits them to either 275 or 600 patients, depending upon whether they have a certification from the American Board of Medical Specialities or not,” Oborn said.

    Some patients have also faced run-ins with police officers who advocates say don’t yet understand Utah’s medical marijuana law.

    “We are having a big issue with police officers understanding the law or believing that they understand that law, and so they are giving patients tickets for possession and paraphernalia when they show them that they have their medical cannabis card,” said Desiree Hennessy, director of the Utah Patients Coalition.

    “And some have just said it’s not legal yet, some believe that there should be blister packs, just a lot of misinformation about even understanding what’s legal, what these patients can have,” Hennessy added.

    Her group has helped some patients who were accused by police of having counterfeit patient cards, which Hennessy said has not been true. Some patients, when pulled over by police, have had $200 and $400 worth of medicine that they legally purchased confiscated due to such misunderstandings, she said.

    “So that’s been really frustrating, and we’re hoping to be able to educate the police. We’re working right now on some different avenues, talking to the chiefs of police. Unfortunately, to be brutally honest, there hasn’t been a lot of interest when I’ve tried to call and educate,” Hennessy explained.

    She said when her group tries to work with police on cases, officers often indicate that they expect the courts to sort out the issue. But she said judges often say, “It must be illegal, or the police officer wouldn’t have given you a ticket if it wasn’t.”

    But Hennessy expressed optimism that progress is happening, if slowly.

    Last week, one patient who had been cited for possession of paraphernalia received a letter from the police department stating it had been a mistake, and advising the patient to retrieve their medication.

    “And so that’s a huge win, and we’re hoping to see more of that happening,” Hennessy said.

    Like Boyack, Hennessy said that while the program isn’t yet perfect or even finished, “We’re definitely working every day to try to expand things and make them actually run smooth.”

    “I think by next year, things will be better than they were this year. I think every year they’re going to continue to get better because everybody is focused on access for patients,” Hennessy said.

  • Rooftop solar: What’s its value and what is fair? Much at stake in Utah rate case
    Dom Ontiveros, of Auric Energy, installs a solar panel on the 1,000th home that utilized the Empower SLC Solar program in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. Empower SLC Solar, a community-led program in Salt Lake County, helps residents overcome the logistical and financial hurdles of going solar. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

    Public Service Commission will weigh issue

    SALT LAKE CITY — Solar advocates say a proposal by Rocky Mountain Power to decrease the amount it pays future rooftop solar owners for excess energy is a threat to more development of the renewable energy resource and will deter additional investments by Utah customers.

    A rate case on the proposal is slated to be heard this week by the Utah Public Service Commission after the utility company completed a three-year cost benefit study of rooftop solar’s value.

    Kate Bowman, renewable energy program manager with Utah Clean Energy, said during a webinar Friday that the proceeding will define the future of rooftop solar in Utah.

    “Access to rooftop solar is a choice people want to make and a choice they should have,” she said.

    Rocky Mountain Power’s net-metering program began in earnest in 2008, with just 372 customers. By 2017, when it ended at that rate of compensation, there were 27,800 rooftop solar customers in the state. It has since grown to nearly 36,000 customers.

    Still, Bowman said commercial and residential solar only makes up 2% of the energy mix in Utah, with plenty of room to grow.

    After the traditional net-metering program ended, Rocky Mountain Power implemented a transition program agreed to in a stipulation approved by the utility commission to shave the rate by 8% to 10% for new customers.

    In this latest proposal, Rocky Mountain Power seeks a compensation rate reduction for new solar customers of 84%, advocates said.

    “We feel we should only have to pay the market rate not the premier rate,” said spokesman Spencer Hall.

    He added the utility company’s recommendation to the Public Service Commission on the issue of customer-generated electricity is to minimize cost shifting to other customers by setting a rate Rocky Mountain Power believes is fair compensation.

    But Bowman strongly disagreed that it is “fair,” and said the benefits of rooftop solar energy were vastly underestimated by the utility company.

    “If Rocky Mountain Power’s proposal is approved, it sends a strong signal to prospective solar customers that their energy exported to the grid is essentially worthless,” Bowman said.

    Sachu Constantine, managing director of regulatory affairs for Vote Solar, said the national organization looked at solar energy production by more than 3,000 customers in Utah and came up with it own compensation rate.

    The 24 cents per kilowatt-hour it came up with — compared to Rocky Mountain Power’s rate of 1.5 cents, reflects avoided costs such as additional infrastructure investment or losses of energy via transmission lines to the utility company because rooftop solar energy is generated on site. Additionally, the analysis took into account climate benefits such as reduced carbon emissions and jobs created by the solar industry.

    “This is about fairness and allowing customers to participate in the value of solar,” he said. stressing that such a low rate paid by Rocky Mountain Power will discourage new investment in rooftop solar.

    The utility company’s proposal simply doesn’t reflect the value rooftop solar provides, Constantine said, adding the group simply wants a return to the net-metering rate, which was compensation based on a straight kilowatt per hour earned, not a portion of it.

    Josh Neves, attorney for Utah-owned Blue Raven Solar, said the future of solar power will be determined by what the Public Service Commission decides after Tuesday’s hearing.

    After the net-metering rate ended in 2017, Neves said, many Utah solar companies shut their doors and took their business elsewhere.

    “The current Rocky Mountain Power proposal will easily be the most regressive rate restructure in the country and will literally eliminate thousands of jobs here in Utah.”

    Hall said the export rate paid to rooftop solar customers is borne by other customers and does not affect the utility company’s earnings.

    He added the state Office of Consumer Affairs, which had argued against the inequity in net metering for those not on the system, is in general agreement with the rate reduction.

    Correction:An earlier version incorrectly said the export rate influenced the company’s earnings but should have said it does not affect the earnings.

  • Rural counties vying for a bite of Utah’s global trade apple
    The area at I-80 near 7200 West where the Utah Inland Port is planned to be built in Salt Lake City is pictured on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

    Critics worry ‘satellite’ ports would up fossil fuel exports; inland port officials say sites need to be ‘market driven’

    SALT LAKE CITY — While the debate around the development of a Utah inland port in the heart of the Salt Lake Valley rages on, rural Utah wants a bite of the global trade apple.

    Beaver, Carbon, Emery, Grand, Iron, San Juan, Juab, Wayne and Tooele counties have made pitches to the Utah Inland Port Authority to be selected as locations for a “satellite” port or “spokes” to the hub-and-spoke model state leaders have envisioned for a massive import and export network of truck, rail and airport connections meant to maximize Utah’s place in the global logistics economy.

    It’s too soon to tell which county or counties may be chosen to host a satellite location as Utah Inland Port Authority officials say they are still in the midst of evaluating the viability of those counties’ proposals.

    Those rural counties see a partnership with the Utah Inland Port Authority — the Legislature-created entity to guide development of a global trade hub on 16,000 acres west of Salt Lake City International Airport — as an opportunity for economic growth.

    But anti-port critics see the rural interest as an indication that the port authority, using its ability to collect and control tax dollars in its jurisdiction, will facilitate increased exports of fossil fuels and extractive industries out of rural Utah, particularly coal out of Emery County or crude oil out of Carbon County. And critics have been frustrated that these proposals have taken shape out of the public eye.

    “This takes us in a backward direction,” said Deeda Seed, with the Center for Biological Diversity and a lead organizer of the Stop the Polluting Port Coalition. “Coal is an industry that’s dying — they’re going bankrupt for a reason — and so it’s irresponsible, just purely from a financial standpoint, to be looking at any of this.”

    But port authority officials say the proposals have come only as the Utah Port Authority has fielded interest from rural Utah, and they’re only exploring the feasibility of those ideas before they take any proposals to the public.

    “By doing our research, we’re simply in this phase right now of doing our homework,” Ginger Chinn, the Utah Inland Port Authority’s managing director of business development, told the Deseret News recently.

    And Chinn said just because an area’s main export may currently be in extractive industries, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the future of that area’s economy. That’s why port authority officials are interested in exploring rural areas’ existing infrastructure and how that may be used to expand into new areas, she said.

    “It’s market driven,” Chinn said, noting that coal has begun to “drop off” as an industry. “We need to find ways to help these counties with diversifying. So how can we do that?”

    Chinn gave the Utah Inland Port Authority Board during its Sept. 16 meeting a high-level overview of the proposals and how port authority officials are now exploring the “business rationale” of partnering with these areas in the next phase of the port authority’s exploration of siting satellite locations. Ultimately, the information can be compiled into what she called an “asset map” that could benefit the state as a whole.

    Chinn said she didn’t have a timeline of when clearer proposals would take shape, but if and when they do, they would be brought to the port board for consideration for a project area designation. If the port authority designates a project area, it could infuse tax dollars collected from future property tax growth for infrastructure investment.

    Here’s a breakdown of the proposals that counties have submitted, according to Utah Inland Port Authority documents:

    Carbon County

    Carbon County officials propose using about 3,900 acres south and east of Wellington.

    The site would include the Price River Terminal, which hosts a crude oil transloading facility with connections to Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads, according to its website. It is also capable of receiving trains of fracking sand to support Uinta Basin drilling activities.

    “A potential satellite port in Carbon County is very appealing as the proposed site has economic development incentives such as location in an Opportunity Zone and CRA Project Area, rail and spurs onsite and close proximity to a U.S. highway and state route as well as within in 70 miles of two location points along Interstate 70 and one location point along Interstate 15,” Carbon County officials wrote in their submission form.

    Already on site is rail shipping infrastructure, county officials wrote, and the site is within 10 miles of Carbon County Regional Airport.

    For current exports, county officials listed “manufactured goods such as portable substations and dust reduction equipment, petroleum products, natural gas, mining equipment, printed materials, RVs, steel structures, fracking sand, detergents, log cabin kits, bronze statues/art, aircraft machined parts.”

    For imports, they listed “trash/waste, steel, paper, plastics, cabling/wiring.”

    Carbon County officials wrote their area does not have any existing or planned renewable energy projects, but there’s “plenty of land around (the) site to develop a renewable energy project.”

    In response to a question about “proposed environmental actions to mitigate impacts to the community/land, water, air, structures, living organisms, and environmental values,” county officials only wrote “None.”

    Emery County

    Emery County officials propose a site of about 8,891 acres near Green River, made up of 1,683 acres of private land, 2,983 acres of state land and 4,238 acres of federal Bureau of Land Management land.

    The site is north of the Green River Municipal Airport, with Union Pacific Rail, U.S. 6 and I-70 running through or near the project. Various trucking companies already service the area.

    Emery County officials listed coal mines among their top exporting and importing businesses, along with “conductivity-based polymer and composite solutions, nickel coated carbon fiber, fiber internet services, mining equipment, fertilizers, produce, hay and other steel manufactured products.”

    They listed imports as steel, nickel, non-woven materials and charcoal.

    In response to a question in the form about external markets or regions that the area is currently supplying to, Emery County officials wrote “national and international” markets while “working on the Oakland Coal Port to Japan.”

    Emery County officials also noted a solar farm has been proposed on the project site. However, they offered no proposed actions to mitigate environmental concerns.

    Beaver County

    Beaver County officials outlined a “several hundred” acre site off a rail spur near Milford, a small city of 1,500 residents.

    “Beaver County has a rail spur located on the west side of the county with enough surrounding land to construct a manufacturing plant and/or warehouse,” Beaver County officials wrote in the submission form. “It is a Union Pacific hub which is a full service facility.”

    Beaver County would be a “perfect location for a satellite port,” county officials wrote, because of the area’s existing connections to Union Pacific, access to I-15, and an I-70 junction 20 miles north of Beaver. They noted it was halfway between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, and would be near small airports located in Milford, Beaver, Cedar City, and St. George, as well as three hours away from larger airports in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

    Beaver County officials listed agricultural and mining companies — Smithfield Hog Production and CS Mining — as among their area’s top employment sectors. They noted Union Pacific and a slew of trucking companies already provide shipping services for the area’s imports and exports.

    “If Beaver County did have a satellite port, more companies would consider relocating to our area,” county officials wrote. “Smithfield Foods is considering utilizing the port for exportation of livestock within the continental United States and Asia. Agricultural exports such as alfalfa can be exported as well.”

    Beaver County officials also noted the county already hosts “every type of renewable energy.”

    “We house a large solar plant, wind plant, water, biogas and geothermal plants,” they wrote. “These plants with the exception of the water plant, are located on the west side of the county in close proximity to the proposed site. The spur is roughly a half our to the south of the windmills. The biogas and geothermal plants are further east. There are ongoing solar projects for the next 5 years.”

    In response to a question about ways to mitigate environmental impact, county officials only wrote “comply with (National Environmental Policy Act).”

    Beaver County officials said being selected as a satellite port location would provide a needed boost to a rural economy that has struggled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “An inland port will open job opportunities as well as income for our county to be able to thrive and bring people to the community as well as keep them here for generations,” they wrote.

    Grand County

    Grand County officials propose a 613-acre site adjacent to I-70 and near the Crescent Junction interchange and U.S. 191, east of Green River.

    Rail passes through the property, with a rail spur near the Crescent Junction interchange and a transloading site, according to their submission. The site is about 20 miles away from the Canyonlands Field Airport, and is serviced by several trucking companies.

    “Within close proximity to major trucking routes along Interstate 70, rail access through the property and close proximity to the Canyonlands Field Airport,” Grand County officials wrote. “This is an ideal site for a satellite port.

    For current importing and exporting businesses, Grand County officials listed an array of Moab-based companies and local food producers.

    They wrote no renewable energy opportunities exist currently, “but Grand County is willing to entertain all proposals for renewable energy.”

    Grand County officials also wrote “none” in response to a question about proposed actions to mitigate environmental concerns.

    Iron County

    Iron County officials offered up three sites in their submission.

    One includes about 540 acres labeled Port 15 Utah, about 4 miles west of Cedar City, a rail-served industrial site owned by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration that has been envisioned as an intermodal business park with rail, trucking and air connections. The second is about 418 acres labeled Iron Springs near Cedar City, owned by Vanguard Properties. The third is an over 2,000-acre site labeled Fiddlers Canyon Dev., owned by Fiddlers Canyon LLC.

    The sites range from 5 to 9 miles away from I-15 via state Route 56, with Union Pacific rail access either on or near the properties. The sites are all within 7 miles from the Cedar City Regional Airport.

    County officials listed “agriculture, mining, manufacturing, technology, health care, aviation and retail” as top industry growth opportunities.

    “We have an increasing number of inquiries for rail intermodal service,” Iron County officials wrote in their submission. “Our area’s hay manufacturers, a Washington County gypsum mine, a Kane County coal mine are all looking for rail solutions for exporting their products. Many area manufacturers would consider exporting their products if a cost-effective solution for getting products to a seaport could be found.”

    For renewable energy, Iron County officials wrote their county has “more utility-scale solar plants than the rest of Utah combined. Our high altitude, cooler temperatures, and number of sunny days make Iron County the most efficient area in the state for solar power production. We currently have three large power plants located on or near the sites we have recommended.”

    Iron County had a more robust answer, compared to other counties, when it came to proposed actions to mitigate environmental impact.

    “Maintaining clean air and water is paramount in Iron County,” county officials wrote, noting they have been working on an “industrial belt route to divert industrial truck traffic away from Cedar City” and other populated areas.

    Additionally, acknowledging a “limited water supply in the Cedar City valley,” county officials said “the city and Iron County have worked in cooperation with our water conservancy district to capture runoff from the nearby mountains in aquifer recharging basins throughout the valley.”

    San Juan County

    San Juan County officials propose two sites totaling 593 acres about 3 miles away from the Monticello Airport and 22 miles to Blanding Airport.

    The sites do not have access to rail, only truck access from U.S. 191 and U.S. 491, according to their submission form.

    County officials listed agricultural production of wheat and safflower, extraction of helium, extraction and agricultural manufacturing and outdoor recreation manufacturing as top industry growth opportunities in the area. They noted the area already exports uranium and copper globally.

    For renewable energy, county officials noted an existing wind farm is located outside of the project areas in Monticello. “The landowners and San Juan County are both open to the prospect for additional renewable energy projects,” they wrote.

    The county listed “no environmental concerns” in response to a question about ways to mitigate environmental impacts.

    Juab County

    Juab County officials note the J. Randy McKnight Municipal Airport sits on 425 developable acres, with plans already approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to expand the runway. They also noted the county has six I-15 interchanges, as well as multiple rail spurs along I-15, as well as mainline rail through other parts of the county.

    “Potential demand for a satellite port is high,” Juab County officials wrote. “We already have several import/export businesses in the area, including neighboring counties who do not have local rail or freeway access.

    They also noted Juab County’s proximity to the Wasatch Front “is also a positive factor.”

    “Many Utah County companies have already made the move to Juab County and are in various stages of doing so,” they wrote. “More businesses are expected to come as the cost of doing business on the Wasatch Front continues to increase.”

    Juab County’s submission lacked specifics when compared to other counties’ submissions, with many answers to questions simply saying: “The gathering of this data is still in process and it will continue to develop as we work with the Inland Port Authority and (the Utah Association of Counties).”

    However, Juab County noted its area has opportunities for renewable energy, with a 500-acre solar facility that will begin construction this fall.

    Wayne County

    Wayne County officials proposed only 34 acres, in a county that is 97% public lands and the fourth lowest populated Utah county. The submission form provided to the Deseret News did not include a map of the area.

    County officials wrote Wayne County has “several, small light manufacturing businesses that may benefit from a satellite port.” However, the county struggles with rail connectivity. The county has access to two small airports: Wayne Wonderland Airport in Lyman and Hanksville Airport in Torrey.

    Wayne County’s submission also lacked details when compared to other county’s submissions. It acknowledged the costs for developing and operating a satellite port in Wayne County would require “substantial” investment, “but not beyond the ability of potential participants and partners.”

    “Wayne County has considerable assets including a spectacular environment, outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities, stable and hard-working resident base with natural resources that include timber and world class paleontology,” county officials wrote. “Issues that hamper economic development are similar to many other rural areas including lack of adequate living wage jobs, challenges in access to available goods, services and markets, lack of affordable and quality housing, growing need for improved broadband and shortage of infrastructure.”

    County officials also wrote Wayne County does have opportunities for renewable energy “once useable infrastructure is put in place. The site is ripe for solar and possible wind generation.”

    As for environmental impacts, Wayne County officials acknowledged they “may present themselves once firm plans are made, but it is anticipated that they can be dealt with in a safe manner.”

    “Until more is known about the potential uses of the Wayne County satellite port property air quality standards will be unknown,” county officials wrote. “The fact that the inherent possibility of a Wayne County satellite port property should generate job interests and growth which in turn will provide income and opportunity all of which will be an economic added value to the Wayne County community.

    Tooele County

    As of Sept. 18, Chinn said she had not received Tooele County’s submission because it was likely still being processed through the Utah Association of Counties. But Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne said the form had been recently submitted so the county could be considered for a satellite port.

    Earlier this year, Tooele County officials began discussing a proposal to not only vie for a satellite port area, but a proposal to host the ‘central hub” of the Utah Inland Port amid political pushback from Salt Lake City leaders and environmental activists.

    Their proposed project area included nearly 11,000 acres of mostly open farm lands in Tooele County, and would include an already approved 900-acre business park near the Utah Motorsports Park and Deseret Peak Complex in Erda. If inland port officials didn’t bite at the central hub proposal, Tooele County leaders said at the time they also wanted to be considered as a “satellite” location.

    Milne said the Tooele County satellite port proposal is similar, but narrowed down in acreage.

  • Warning: Don’t try to get on northbound I-15 at 9000 South this weekend
    Ames Construction crews work on a new bridge over 9000 South that will be part of the northbound I-15 collector/distributor system in Sandy on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. The collector/distributor will run parallel to northbound I-15 between 9400 South and the I-215 interchange and will improve access to I-215 and 7200 South. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

    SANDY — If you’re used to getting on northbound I-15 freeway at 9000 South in Sandy, you might want to reconsider this weekend.

    The Utah Department of Transportation is scheduled to close 9000 South overnight beginning on Saturday at 6 p.m. until 5 a.m. on Sunday between I-15 and Monroe Street in Sandy. The closure will allow crews to pour concrete for a new bridge over 9000 South that is part of a new collector/distributor system that is designed to improve safety and reduce traffic delays.

    “What we’re doing this weekend is pouring the deck of the ramp that goes over 90th South — the beginning area of the collector/distributor,” said UDOT project manager Jessica Rice.

    During the closure, drivers can access I-15 at 10600 South. Eastbound and westbound 9000 South traffic will be detoured to 10600 South. Drivers should plan extra travel time and follow the detour signs during the closure. Drivers can get more information about the detour by visiting the project website.

    Detour ahead: I-15 briefing

    “(The new system) will enhance safety by eliminating the weaving of cars trying to get on the freeway near I-215,” she said. “What we’re doing is building a new collector/distributor system that will change the commute for the better by cutting our own traffic delays in half in this area.”

    The new collector/distributor system is similar to one between 2100 South and 900 South in Salt Lake City, with a three-lane freeway section, separated from the I-15 travel lanes by a concrete barrier. The collector/distributor will run parallel to northbound I-15 between 9400 South and the I-215 interchange and will improve access to I-215 and 7200 South. The project will also enhance safety by reducing crashes in the area by nearly 40%, officials said.

    “As the cars are weaving between 90th South and the interchanges to 7200 and to 215 — we probably have a crash a day in that area,” she said. “This new collector/distributor system — being concrete barrier separated — will help with that because it’s eliminating the weave of that traffic.”

    UDOT estimates approximately 130,000 vehicles travel on northbound I-15 in the area. The enhancements will be a big change to drivers’ everyday commute, Rice said.

    When the new collector/distributor system opens later this year, drivers on northbound I-15 will access the new system just before reaching 9000 South. The collector/distributor will be the sole access point for 7200 South and I-215 from northbound I-15.

    “Eliminating the cars weaving in and out of traffic between the 7200 South and I-215 interchanges will really enhance safety,” Rice said. “This project will change the daily commute for the better.”

    The collector/distributor system is part of the $163 million I-15 northbound project, which will also add a new travel lane from Bangerter Highway to 9400 South. The project is scheduled for completion next summer.

    UDOT estimates the entire project could cut northbound travel times by 50%.

    “(The improvements) will enhance safety and it’ll keep our local commuters and our regional commuters and everybody moving through smoothly,” Rice said.

    “These major changes on northbound I-15 will enhance safety and reduce traffic delays,” she added. “We’re making it easier to connect to the 7200 South and I-215 interchanges in a way that meets our transportation needs now and in the future.”

  • Jazz sponsor pulls out of luxury suite, calls support of Black Lives Matter ‘political propaganda’
    Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

    SALT LAKE CITY — SME Steel President Dieter Klohn said he is taken aback by the furor that’s erupted over a letter the company sent to Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller expressing concern over the actions of players and team management in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and other racial equality efforts.

    Klohn, whose West Jordan-based company has been a suite holder at Vivint Arena going back to 1992 just a year after the venue’s opening as the Delta Center, did not equivocate on the content of the Sept. 9 letter in an interview with the Deseret News Thursday. But he did offer further clarification of the stance he said he and fellow SME leaders were trying to share with Jazz ownership.

    “There was no intent... to offend anyone or take sides in what is a highly volatile political situation,” Klohn said. “We are not that kind of company. I believe strongly that this is America and people can express their opinion and that it is our right and privilege to do so... and a lot of people lost life and limb so we can enjoy that privilege.

    “But not in a sports arena that is not meant for that kind of action,” he said.

    In the letter, signed by Klohn and three other SME executives, the company detailed its long affiliation with the team, its expenditures totaling some $7 million in ticket, licensing fees and other expenses related to its luxury suite at the arena over the years and its “disappointment and disillusionment” with the NBA in general, and Jazz players and management in specific, over kneeling in protest during the national anthem and NBA games that “appear to be a billboard for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.”

    “It is ironic that pampered and exceptionally well-paid athletes cavalierly exercise the freedom bought for them through the courage, and sacrifice of this nation’s servicemen and women by disrespectfully kneeling during the country’s anthem,” the letter reads. “By the same token, it seems odd and inappropriate for NBA players to adorn their jerseys with names and tributes for felons and politically-divisive slogans from Black Lives Matter, when true heroes like Chris Kyle and Pat Tillman go unnoticed and unremarked.”

    Back in July, NBA league officials and players representatives approved a list of 29 phrases that relate to the fight for racial equality that players could choose from to replace their last names on the backs of jerseys. While no names were included on that list, many players have paid respects to individuals who have been the victims of police shootings by featuring those names on their shoes.

    The SME letter goes on to deride the Jazz for, according to the authors, turning an entertainment venue into a forum for political speech.

    “The recent actions of the NBA — including the owners, coaches and players of the Utah Jazz — have converted a beloved entertainment venue into a forum for dissemination of political propaganda which is divisive and completely out of step with our company and its values,” the letter reads.

    SME said due to actions by Jazz management and players it characterized as “disrespectful,” it would be dissolving its suite holder contract until things change.

    “NBA franchises, and players, like all others in this country, certainly have the right to freely express their views,” the letter reads. “They cannot, however, force paying customers to be subjected to their ostentatious acts of disrespect for our country and its values without any consequences.

    “SME will not renew its licensing agreement or make any further payment for its suite until the NBA and its franchises again offer sports and entertainment rather than divisive political propaganda.”

    On Thursday, Klohn said the company had not received a response from Miller or the team. A Jazz spokesman declined a Deseret News request for comment on the SME letter.

    While the team remained quiet, the court of public opinion was anything but and social media platforms were rife with commentary on the issue.

    Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, in a tweet about SME Steel’s letter, said Thursday night “It’s your right to do that... just like it’s ours to kneel,” accompanied by a hand raised in a peace sign.

    Outrage appeared to be far outstripping support of the SME letter in the digital realm, though Klohn said the correspondence SME has received directly since the missive went public was almost entirely supportive.

    SME Steel has an extensive project portfolio as a structural steel contractor, including a long list of local clients. Klohn said he does not expect any significant negative reaction from clients.

    Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
    Gail Miller hugs Nellie Mainor, 9, who had a kidney transplant for dense deposit kidney disease and wanted to show Gail Miller around the dialysis clinic at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City after a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. During the press conference, Intermountain Healthcare announced it will build an additional Primary Children’s Hospital campus in Lehi. Gail Miller and the Miller family donated $50 million to the cause.

    Intermountain Healthcare has a long-running relationship with SME, a company that’s been a prime contractor on past and upcoming projects. Intermountain also has a new sponsorship connection to the Las Vegas Raiders, another professional sports franchise whose owners have taken a position of support for Black Lives Matter. Last December, the Raiders and Intermountain announced a dealthat would give the hospital system naming rights to the team’s new corporate headquarters and performance center in Las Vegas.

    Intermountain is also closely connected to the Jazz, including through a commitment from the Miller family to make a $50 million philanthropic giftto help the provider build a $500 million Primary Children’s Hospital facility in Lehi.

    Intermountain Healthcare representatives did not respond to Deseret News requests via email and phone for comment on the SME letter on Thursday.

    While the Jazz declined to stipulate if any other Vivint suite holders have backed out of rental contracts, no other sponsors have publicly announced changes to agreements or issues with management or player conduct.

    Another longtime Jazz sponsor that’s poured millions into the organization through the 5 for the Fight jersey patch sponsorship is Qualtrics’ co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith.

    Unlike most NBA jersey patch sponsorships that mostly focus on corporate promotion, Smith used the opportunity to plug his philanthropic organization, one that is working to raise money in the fight against cancer, a disease his father battled successfully amid the early days of the company.

    Smith has registered his support of the Jazz ownership and players’ stances on Black Lives Matter and other racial equality issues via his social media postings.

  • New jobless claims up over 6% in Utah, report says
    The Utah Department of Workforce Services’ main administration building in Salt Lake City. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

    SALT LAKE CITY — The volume of claims for jobless benefits in the Beehive State rose by nearly 6.3% last week, a new report shows.

    The Utah Department of Workforce Services said Thursday the total number of new claims filed for unemployment benefits registered at 4,473 for the week of Sept. 13-19, with a total of $61.2 million in benefits paid out to individuals.

    The report also showed 47,839 continued claims filed during that same period.

    Speaking at a weekly news conference, Unemployment Insurance Division Director Kevin Burt acknowledged the uptick in weekly claims, but said that isn’t necessarily a cause for concern.

    “It is one week of data. Previous to that we had seen four weeks of reduction. It is important to keep in mind that at the peak, it was over 33,000 people requesting the benefit. Now, it was 4,400 — still a stubbornly high number, but it’s been that way for a while,” he said.

    “There’s certainly disruption, but then also keep in mind, unemployment has a seasonality to it. With the fall coming, we do expect the continued claims as well as the new claims to start to plateau or potentially increase as seasonal work results in temporary layoffs because of the winter season.”

    He noted there are also signs of possible recovery in the data, offering some sense of potential optimism for job seekers.

    “It is promising to see the number of continued claims for unemployment benefits decrease every week. Unfortunately, it also appears that new claims have begun to plateau, showing ongoing disruptions to employment,” he said. “While employment disruptions have continued during this pandemic, Utah’s economy has shown itself to be resilient, as evidenced by the latest Utah unemployment rate of 4.1%.”

    The Utah Department of Workforce Services Thursday conducted a virtual job fair where local employers from various industries were able to connect online with prospective candidates in search of a new job.

    Nationally, the Associated Press reported Thursday the number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid rose slightly last week to 870,000, a historically high figure that shows that the viral pandemic is still squeezing restaurants, airlines, hotels and many other businesses six months after it first erupted.

    The figure coincides with evidence that some newly laid-off Americans are facing delays in receiving unemployment benefits as state agencies intensify efforts to combat fraudulent applications and clear their pipelines of a backlog of jobless claims.

    California has said it will stop processing new applications for two weeks as it seeks to reduce backlogs and prevent fraud. Pennsylvania has found that up to 10,000 inmates are improperly receiving aid.

    The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of people who are continuing to receive unemployment benefits declined to 12.6 million. The steady decline in that figure over the past several months reflects that some of the unemployed are being rehired. However, it also indicates that others have exhausted their regular jobless aid, which last six months in most states.

    In addition to those receiving aid on state programs, about 105,000 others were added last week to an extended jobless-benefits program that provides 13 additional weeks of aid. This program, established in the economic relief package Congress passed earlier this year, is now paying benefits to 1.6 million people.

    Applications for jobless aid soared in the spring after the viral outbreak suddenly shut down businesses across the country, which cost tens of millions of jobs and triggered a deep recession. Since then, as states have slowly reopened their economies, about half the jobs that were initially lost have been recovered.

    Yet job growth has been slowing, and unemployment remains elevated at 8.4%. In most sectors of the economy, employers appear reluctant to hire new workers in the face of deep uncertainty about the course of the virus. Most economists say it will be hard for the job market or the economy to sustain a recovery unless Congress enacts another rescue package for individuals, businesses and states. Ultimately, an effective vaccine will likely be needed for the economy to fully regain its health.