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A Burlington Northern Santa Fe train sits idle at the Port of Oakland November 3, 2009 in Oakland, California.
A couple of weeks ago, a group of Long Beach residents sent a letter and a video to Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway a few years back bought BNSF, the railway that is proposing to build a new intermodal transfer yard west of the 710. Perhaps keying off a book that celebrates Buffett's ability to see the handwriting on the wall via Main Street rather than Wall Street, the residents voiced their opposition to the Southern California International Gateway project.
The Long Beach Business Journal describes the 163-acre, $500 million project that sits about 4 miles outside the port itself as one of a new breed of sustainable, more environmentally-friendly expansions of port operations, the kind of opportunity that could encourage BNSF and other railways "to transition to the cleanest locomotive engine technologies over the next decade." But even the business press points out that "state air quality measures for line haul locomotives, however, are mostly voluntary since California regulatory agencies don’t have jurisdiction over interstate commerce." And environmental groups, even those who think the ports are doing a good job with a sustainability plan, have knocked SCIG for failing to require zero emission trucks at its site.
It's not always easy to get a sense of what a neighborhood thinks about a big project that will change the area in which they live. The fear is that activists on either side will distort the picture. Still, I wondered how supporters of the project felt about this kind of video. So I wrote to Elisabeth DeSmidt, a Long Beach resident the other side of the 710 from the proposed BNSF intermodal yard, a supporter of SCIG identified to me by BNSF's Lena Kent.
She made two main points. One, that sourcing particulate matter is difficult. And second, echoing a key argument made by BNSF: because the SCIG project will replace Cal Cartage's operations with more electric equipment, a new intermodal transfer facility would be cleaner. Here's what she said in an email.
…I do recognize some of the faces in the video from the public meetings I have attended about the SCIG project. I think many of the people speaking in the video have well meaning intentions, they are concerned for their children as I am for my two small children. I think many of the West Long Beach residents are being mis informed and given incorrect information. There was a presentation given to the West Long Beach Residence about particulate matter and air quality that frankly scared the heck out of most of the residence. This presentation was very misleading and blamed trucks and trains for the particulate matter, when there is no way to prove where the particulate matter is coming from.
I agree that there are many sources of pollution in our neighborhood including the refineries near by. The facility where BNSF is proposing to build is currently a trucking facility Cal Cartage. BNSF is proposing to build a Green, facility that will use quite a bit of electric equipment and cleans up an existing dirty trucking facility. The arguments the West Long Beach residents bring up have no basis in fact or scientific data. I have looked at the data, and this is why I support the project.
DeSmidt's points, and the points of the residents in the video they sent to Buffett, are only part of the picture. But the video and response are good indicators that this dispute still has plenty of track along which to heat up before it loses steam.