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Long Beach City Council Appeals BNSF Railyard Project

Protest Of L.A. Harbor Commission’s Approval Now Heads To L.A. City Council

by Joshua H. Silavent, Staff Writer

March 14, 2013 – The Long Beach City Council voted 8-0 in closed session (Councilmember Suja Lowenthal absent) to appeal the Los Angeles Harbor Commission’s March 7 decision to approve Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s (BNSF) proposed $500 million railyard development in the harbor area just west of Long Beach. The L.A. City Council must now give its OK to the project before it can proceed. No timeline has been announced.

“This project and the corresponding environmental document ignores the tremendous impacts on the residents and businesses in the immediate area, and fails to correct those impacts in any meaningful way,” Mayor Bob Foster said in a statement.

BNSF’s Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) railyard is intended to provide near-dock capacity for trucks to load cargo containers onto trains for distribution. Currently, trucks transport the containers to a BNSF facility 24 miles from the ports near downtown Los Angeles.

BNSF has identified 156 acres of existing industrial sites in Wilmington for the SCIG railyard, about four miles from harbor docks, between Sepulveda Boulevard on the north, Pacific Coast Highway on the south, the Dominguez Channel on the west and the Terminal Island Freeway on the east. Construction of the railyard would take place from 2013 to 2015.

“Long Beach stood united on behalf of our residents,” Councilmember James Johnson said in a statement. “We do not need to sacrifice our environment or our neighborhoods to grow the economy, and I hope that in its consideration of SCIG, the Los Angeles City Council shows Long Beach residents the same care and respect they have shown L.A. residents on similar projects.”

“The grounds for this appeal are that the [Los Angele] 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.”

Foster said the city is committed to working with all stakeholders to find a “cooperative resolution.” Additionally, “The City of Long Beach is willing to meet with appropriate representatives of the project to work toward a solution to the rail impact issues, in lieu of proceeding to litigation,” the appeal letter states. “We sincerely hope that the Los Angeles City Council will accept the City of Long Beach’s offer to cooperate. Regrettably, the harbor commission flatly refused.”