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L.A. City Council Expected To Approve Rail Yard Project This Week; L.A. Staff Recommends Council Deny Appeals By Long Beach City Council, School District And Others

By George Economides - Publisher

May 7, 2013 – The controversial rail yard project proposed by BNSF Railway Co. and approved recently by the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners is expected to get the green light tomorrow, May 8, from the Los Angeles City Council.

Item No. 9 on the L.A. City Council agenda addresses the appeals filed by about a dozen public agencies – including the City of Long Beach and Long Beach Unified School District – environmental groups and private sector companies. The staff’s recommendation is to deny the appeals and move forward with the project. Agenda item No. 10 recommends that the city council approve a 50-year permit with BSNF to allow the company to move forward with site preparation on what is known as the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) Project.

The project site, about 150 acres, is bounded by Sepulveda Boulevard, Pacific Coast Highway, the Dominguez Channel and the Terminal Island Freeway. The site (east of the freeway) is near neighborhoods, a high school and an elementary school.

Several of the appellants have indicated publically that if the city council approves the project, they will pursue the matter in court.

The SCIG is intended to address what is expected to be a steady increase in containerized cargo moving through the San Pedro Bay ports. The project calls for building and operating an intermodal rail yard that would transfer containers between trucks and railcars. The staff report to the L.A. City Council states: “According to the Port [of L.A.], the proposed SCIG will increase the overall efficiency and competitiveness of its rail-based goods movement business, reduce truck traffic on regional roadways and provide intermodal rail facilities consistent with regional air quality, transportation resources and goods movement agencies.”

BNSF claims the project will significantly reduce the number of trucks currently needed to transport containers from the ports to rail yards in Downtown Long Beach. By 2035, the project is estimated to eliminate 3,700 daily truck trips.

The project is expected to produce about 1,500 direct and indirect jobs “per year over a three-year construction period and between 660 to 1,096 permanent jobs for the operation of the project at full capacity (estimated by 2035).”

The appeal filed by the Long Beach City Council with the L.A. City Council is dated March 13, six days after harbor commissioners approved the final environmental impact report (FEIR). The appeal states, in part:
“The grounds for this appeal are that the 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. More specifically, the Board certified an EIR insufficient in scope and not based on substantial evidence. . . . the 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 Final EIR 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 Long Beach Unified School District filed its 59-page appeal with the L.A. City Council on March 26. The appeal includes the following statement:
“The District strongly opposes approval of the SCIG Project. The District is troubled by the significant environmental impacts of the proposed Project and the Port’s apparent unwillingness to substantively address the significant concerns repeatedly raised throughout the environmental review process by the District. It is imperative that the Port utilize the environmental review process to identify, adequately evaluate, and mitigate the significant environmental impacts that will occur with construction and operation of the Project. The Port has failed to do so.”

The school district’s appeal says that the EIR “does not adequately evaluate or mitigate impacts to the children who attend District schools and the teachers and staff who work there.”

Late Friday, May 3, the Business Journal obtained an undated memo from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LADPH) recommending the environmental impact report (EIR) approved by harbor commissioners be sent back for further revision because of health concerns. The department cites concerns previously expressed in a March 6 letter issued by the Southern California Air Quality Management District.

The department’s memo, sent by Dr. Cyrus Rangan, director of the county’s bureau of toxicology and environmental assessment, to Chris Cannon, director of environmental management for the Port of Los Angeles, states in part:
“LADPH concurs with the concerns cited by SCAQMD, particularly regarding the significant localized air quality impacts on the surrounding communities from this project. The EIR shows that the SCIG [Southern California International Project] project will exceed the applicable significance thresholds for Nitrous Dioxide (NO2), PM10 [particulate matter] and PM2.5 by 250%, 420% and 80% respectively. These exceedances will negatively impact sensitive land use near the proposed rail yard.

“Children are especially vulnerable to these pollutants, which are associated with significant diseases such as asthma and other chronic respiratory conditions. According to SCAQMD, the EIR does not currently provide any mitigation measures that would reduce operational emissions and potential impacts.”