Judge’s Ruling Puts Future of BNSF’s Port Project in Long Beach’s Hands

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Will BNSF be able to build its proposed facility at the Port of Los Angeles? The answer could be in the hands of the City of Long Beach.

A new ruling by California superior court judge Barry P. Goode in favor of Long Beach and the other litigants, and against BNSF Railways, found that the environmental impact report prepared by BNSF needed to be “a more robust and accurate analysis.”

The ruling puts the $500 million rail-yard project at the Port of Los Angeles in jeopardy unless BNSF can quickly work out its differences with environmental groups and the City.

Dubbed the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG), the project would create an intermodal rail facility near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The ports are located approximately 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. The port complex is composed of approximately 80 miles of waterfront, and 7,500 acres of land and water, with approximately 500 commercial berths.

In April, judge Goode put a halt to BNSF’s planned 153-acre intermodal rail facility, siding with citizens’ groups suing over environmental concerns.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, which is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, filed the lawsuit in June 2015 in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of Harbor residents living near the proposed development that would be built on Port of Los Angeles property.

The Plaintiffs contend the proposed Southern California International Gateway rail yard project violates the California Environmental Quality Act and the state and federal Civil Rights Acts.

Specifically, they assert that the facility will increase cancer rates, chances of children developing asthma, and add to chronic air pollution plaguing the region.

The SCIG is subject to the California Environmental Quality Act, a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.

BNSF has 60 days from Judge Goode’s most recent ruling to appeal, and it’s unclear whether the SCIG is salvageable.

A Call to Work Things Out

The Long Beach Press Telegram has called for all sides to resolve the issues, in order to not lose the jobs and other benefits the project would bring.

In an editorial published on July 13, the paper stated that, “The editorial board repeats its position that all sides should sit down and try to work out a solution to this issue.”

The paper went on to state: “We have said there are many positives to the project for the entire region. It will provide hundreds of jobs and help relieve congestion near the ports, and make them more competitive with rival ports.

But we’ve also said this economic development should not come at the expense of the health of students and 30,000 residents who live east of the proposed project.”

The mayor of Long Beach, Robert Garcia, noted the impact of the most recent ruling, stating in The Long Beach Press Telegram that “It certainly strengthens our hand, definitely.” Garcia added that “The city is now in a position where we have a court standing on our side.”

© 2016 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.