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Long Beach Harbor Commission Supports City Council In Its Appeal Of Rail Project

Commissioners Seek Solutions

George Economides - Publisher

April 9, 2013 – “I’m hopeful we can find common ground . . . but if we’re going to build something, we absolutely have to build it right,” said Long Beach Harbor Commissioner Rich Dines as he made the motion to support the Long Beach City Council’s appeal of the proposed Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) rail yard project.

The $500 million, 153-acre project by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), is located adjacent to homes and schools in West Long Beach. The project, which a BNSF spokeswoman called the “greenest project in the U.S.,” was approved recently by the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Commission. But Long Beach harbor commissioners voted unanimously on April 1, with one abstention, to support Dines’ motion.

“I really want to talk about solutions,” Dines said. He also stressed the need for the project as both ports continue to grow and improve services in order to remain competitive with other port complexes.

Dines listed a series of issues that he said need to be addressed, including:

• relocating existing businesses at the site. The firms, including several trucking companies, employ upwards of 1,000 people;

• work toward a zero-emission solution;

• provide a buffer zone . . . he proposed building a solar electric sound wall from Pacific Coast Highway to Willow Street that would rise 30 feet high;

• moving as much truck traffic as possible off the Terminal Island Freeway and onto Alameda Street; and

• establishing a community benefit fund to provide dual-pane windows and retrofitting homes and schools to reduce noise impacts.

“We have to protect the community,” Dines stated. “I will not turn my back on the community. . . . I know the ports can work together” to resolves the issues.

Commissioner Nick Sramek, who lives on the city’s westside, said, “It’s absolutely the wrong place for a rail yard. It’s a disaster for the community. There are simply too many problems. Los Angeles needs to treat Long Beach like a neighbor, not just dump th project over here without mitigation, and work with us to come up with a good solution. I guarantee you the Port of Long Beach would never have put out a project like this without working with the community.”

Sramek added, “There’s a law that says you can’t build a school near a rail yard, but there is no law that says you can’t build a rail yard near a school.”

BNSF rail yard plans call for providing near-dock capacity for trucks to load cargo containers onto trains for distribution. Currently, trucks take the containers from the ports to BNSF’s distribution facility in Downtown Los Angeles – a 24-mile trip. The new rail yard, according to BNSF, removes trucks currently traveling on the Long Beach Freeway, thus reducing noise and pollution along the heavily traveled corridor.

The Long Beach City Council appealed the decision of the Los Angeles Harbor Commission soon after its March 7 approval. Two weeks later, the commission granted BNSF a 50-year lease for the rail yard site.

As previously reported by the Business Journal, “The grounds for this appeal are that the [Los Angeles] Board of Harbor Commissioners did not proceed in the manner required by law, abused its discretion, and violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to comply with CEQA’s requirements,” Mayor Bob Foster wrote to the L.A. City Council in a formal appeal letter.

“Despite the written and oral comments of the City of Long Beach and other interested individuals and agencies (including the Air Quality Management District), the final environmental impact report (FEIR), as certified, included numerous deficiencies and, moreover, failed to adequately address the potential impacts of the SCIG project on the City of Long Beach, its residents and businesses. In addition, the mitigation measures included in the FEIR fail to adequately reduce project impacts to an acceptable level, and do not adequately protect neighborhoods and the sensitive receptors that will be impacted by the project.”

The Los Angeles City Council has not indicated when, or if, it will take up the appeal. Several groups have indicated they will take legal action if the project continues as approved.