Middle Harbor project may move forward

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Long Beach harbor commissioners today consider the environmental effects of a proposed $750 million dollar expansion project. The project would be the second largest in the port's history. KPCC's Molly Peterson has more on prospects for the port area known as Middle Harbor.

Molly Peterson: Middle Harbor is out of date, the Port of Long Beach says. Its jagged "L" of a slip – a shallow, tight bend of water – is hard for modern ships to navigate. The port's Richard Steinke says its facilities are old-fashioned "omni" terminals built to handle goods packed in crates, bales, and bunches.

Richard Steinke: It had containers, bananas, steel coils, plywood, all kinds of different cargo. Now everything is almost containerized and the land layout is just not efficient for the type of operation they've transformed themselves to these days.

Peterson: So, over the next decade, the port plans to reconfigure Middle Harbor to handle up to 3 million shipping containers a year. Steinke says the increased traffic wouldn't worsen the air.

Under the plan, ships would plug in to dockside power instead of idling their engines. Steinke says a rail system on the dock would replace nearly one-third of truck trips.

Steinke: The exciting thing is that we're going to reduce pollution by 50 percent even with the growth that's anticipated over the next 20 years. So this is a project that should be win-win-win for everybody. It's our own economic stimulus package for the workers of Long Beach.

Peterson: The Port of Long Beach is promoting the plan with this video.

[Video: A logical next step for the POLB. An opportunity to rehabilitate two old inefficient terminals into a green state-of-the-art facility, molded by the green port policy and Clean Air Action Plan.]

Peterson: That Clean Air Action Plan aims at slashing ground-level ozone pollution at and around the port. But the Natural Resources Defense Council's Adrian Martinez points out that the port's green policies, including the action plan, are voluntary.

Adrian Martinez: We want enforceable commitments. We want commitments to reduce pollution where we can go back to the port and say you're not living up to these promises, go back and fix it. Clean up the air.

Peterson: Business leaders, for their part, anticipate an economic boost from Middle Harbor. Gary Toebben of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce says California's tough business climate and competition from other ports make it necessary to expand port capacity.

Gary Toebben: Without an improvement project like the Middle Harbor project we will lose eventually nearly all the business that we have at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Peterson: With Middle Harbor, port officials say, Long Beach would get a thousand jobs during construction and 14,000 permanent jobs after that. Martinez of the Natural Resources Defense Council concedes that those numbers matter a lot now that jobs are so scarce.

Martinez: The public needs to make sure that if the port is claiming that this is going to add tons of jobs, one, that make sure that these are good green jobs, and two, to make sure that that this claim is founded.

Peterson: With or without good green jobs, Long Beach Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga isn't convinced the port expansion is a good idea. She's lived near the ports for more than 40 years, and Uranga's convinced her children suffered from asthma because of it.

Tonia Reyes Uranga: Even though it promises to be cleaner and greener, we still have 10 years of poor air quality, 10 years of traffic, 10 years of concerns from the community until we get to the point where we can say that this project actually has improved anyone's health or anyone's quality of life.

Peterson: The final environmental report Long Beach harbor commissioners are expected to pass promises $10 million to offset air, noise, and water pollution, and $5 million to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. The port wants to start work on Middle Harbor this year.