Saturday, December 03, 2011
By Kristopher Hanson, Staff Writer, Press-Telegram
LONG BEACH - Two City Council members representing West Long Beach are asking their colleagues to formally oppose a planned $500 million railyard on the border with Wilmington, a controversial and hotly debated project nearly 10 years in the making.
Council members James Johnson and Rae Gabelich, whose 7th and 8th districts parallel the proposed 153-acre site and the truck and rail routes that would feed it, said increased traffic, noise and pollution from activity at the site may seriously harm the long-term quality-of-life and health of thousands of residents, workers and school children in areas surrounding the yard.
Citing "significant and fundamental" flaws in a draft environmental impact report released this summer by the Port of Los Angeles, Johnson and Gabelich want L.A. officials to conduct new studies, including a detailed analysis of potential job losses by existing businesses that may be forced to relocate if the project is approved.
They plan to bring the measure before the full council at Tuesday's meeting, which starts at 5 p.m. in City Hall, 333 W. Ocean Blvd.
The Port of Los Angeles owns most of the property where the Southern California International Gateway project would be built, giving the port ultimate control over the development's approval, though the decision can be appealed to the Los Angeles City Council.
Rail giant Burlington Northern Santa Fe is seeking to build the yard to handle increased freight volumes through the twin ports of L.A. and Long Beach, which are expected to at least double within 10 years. The project site sits about five miles north of the waterfront off Sepulveda Boulevard and would handle nearly 2 million containers annually on 2,880 fully loaded trains when complete.
BNSF estimates the yard would be the nation's greenest, incorporating all-electric cranes and the newest fleets of locomotives while requiring that all rigs use designated truck routes bypassing residential areas.
They also counter that each train leaving SCIG would take 280 trucks off local roadways, reducing traffic currently running up and down the Long Beach (710) Freeway and Alameda Street from port terminals to railyards in East Los Angeles.
In addition, BNSF has signed a tentative $255 million agreement with the Los Angeles/Orange County Building Trades Council to supply jobs and apprenticeship programs for about 1,500 workers during construction from 2013 to 2015.
The L.A. Board of Harbor Commissioners are expected to vote on the plan after a public review period is completed sometime in late 2012, said port spokesman Phillip Sanfield.
"The (draft) EIR states that there are no cumulative impacts from this project," Johnson and Gabelich said in a joint five-page report.
"This defies logic to believe there are no impacts from a new railyard, especially when considered with the cumulative impacts of the proposed expansion of the (existing) Union Pacific rail facility, which is immediately adjacent to this proposed site."
Characterizing the draft EIR, which is under public review through Feb. 1, as a "misrepresentation of project impacts," opponents led by Johnson and Gabelich claim "air quality, health-risk analysis, traffic and noise analysis are all incorrect and need to be redone."
Luis Cabrales, an air-quality expert with the Coalition for Clean Air, said the railyard's location near several elementary, middle and high schools is reason enough to consider scrapping the plan or moving it closer to the harbor.
"It's a disastrous choice of location, just a few hundred feet from where families live and kids go to school," said Cabrales, referring to nearby Hudson Middle School and post-war homes just a stone's throw from the site. "Moreover, the project does not include plans for on-dock rail, emerging zero-emission technologies, or other modernizations that would help reduce emissions and create green tech jobs."
Johnson in particular said he'll remain opposed unless more effort is put into the possibility of an electric or other zero-emission rail link system.
"The SCIG DEIR summarily dismissed this technology as not feasible at this time and didn't give serious analysis to any alternatives that even considered this technology," he said.
Long Beach resident Ryan Wiggins is urging Los Angeles port authorities to hold off for now, given that port volumes have been dropping rapidly in recent months and are expected to continue sliding into the new year, making the project less urgent.
"With the economic slowdown, this project won't be needed for many years," said Wiggins, who's helped coordinate public rallies against the plan at local schools, parks and homes in recent months. "We can take this opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the past and make a plan to invest in technologies that will improve our health, create jobs and ensure our ability to compete in the 21st-century economy."
Gabelich also raised concerns that existing companies on the site of the planned railyard, which include trucking firms and a grain terminal, would probably disappear as they are unable to find suitable land for relocation near the port.
"The existing businesses at the proposed site provide more than 1,200 permanent jobs, and more during peak seasons," while the SCIG facility is promising 400 permanent jobs, resulting in an overall reduction in the number of net jobs.
Sanfield said the public comment deadline has been extended from Dec.22 to Feb. 1, after which port environmental and engineering planners will review the draft EIR and incorporate input for the final version, scheduled to go before the commission sometime before the end of 2012.
To learn more or read the draft EIR, visit www.portofla.org or call 310-732-3675.