Long Beach Newspaper Calls for All Sides to Work Out Differences on Port Facility

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Is the Southern California International Gateway dead? Both environmental groups and BNSF Railways are asking the same question.

In April 2016, a California superior court judge put a halt to BNSF’s planned 153-acre intermodal rail facility, the SCIG, siding with citizens’ groups suing over environmental concerns.

Judge Barry Good of the Contra Costa Superior Court sided with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The environmental group 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.

At the time, BNSF officials were quick to respond to the ruling. “Upon initial review, we are disappointed, because the decision appears to delay a nationally and regionally significant transportation infrastructure.”

In May, at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, BNSF officials seemed unclear whether the proposed facility was dead or not, even as they stressed that it would bring some substantial environmental benefits.

BNSF notes that the project would clean up an existing truck yard, and BNSF would be investing over $100 million in green technology. The Port of LA’s draft environmental review found that SCIG would have a positive impact on traffic, both locally and regionally, by eliminating millions of truck trips from the 710, reducing congestion near the ports and along the 710 corridor.

Gateway to the Nation

If there is a gateway to the U.S. it is the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Some 40-percent of imported goods sold across the country are shipped through the two ports.

The SCIG intermodal rail facility would be 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.

The ports include: automobile, container, omni, lumber, and cruise ship terminals; liquid and dry bulk terminals; and extensive transportation infrastructure for cargo movement by truck and rail.

Time to Work it Out?

While environmental groups, the City of Long Beach, and the local school district have decried the project over environmental fears, the local newspaper, The Long Beach Press Telegram, is calling 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.”

Is There a Solution?

The Port of LA’s draft environmental review did find that the SCIG will have a positive impact on traffic, both locally and regionally, by eliminating millions of truck trips from the 710, and reducing congestion near the ports and along the 710 corridor.

NRDC attorneys and scientists have suggested several solutions to reduce the anticipated pollution associated with the project:

1.) Utilization of cleaner Tier 3 and Tier 4 locomotives instead of older, more polluting locomotives;
2.) Expand on-dock rail to eliminate the need for thousands of additional short-haul truck trips;
3.) Use zero-emission container movement systems.

Jobs and the Environment

Perhaps the Press Telegram is right, and the Southern California International Gateway project is not dead after all. If it can be can be built in a way that brings needed jobs and solves the environmental hurdles, it may just surprise everyone and have a long life.

© 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.