San Pedro harbor complex cautiously hopeful after cargo uptick

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Tug boats work the waters in the Port of Los Angeles June 13, 2007 in San Pedro, California. File photo.

The ports of Long Beach and the port of Los Angeles are reporting some gains in December's cargo traffic. KPCC's Molly Peterson reports that harbor officials say the uptick could signal recovery after a difficult year.

Cargo traffic is up at the port of Long Beach for the first time in two years. The port's executive director Dick Steinke says that's good news for the regional economy.

“We’re a significant economic indicator. When we’re looking at the economy we create a number of jobs so as we increase volumes we increase volume of jobs on the water front."

Long Beach imports rose 13 percent in December from the previous year. In the same month, the Port of Los Angeles posted much smaller gains. Both ports are sending 30 to 40 percent more containers overseas than the previous year.

Harbor officials say they're cautiously optimistic about the coming year. Port officials hope that more traffic means more work for longshoremen and truckers – that would be a big economic boon.

At the same time, new pollution rules and fees are taking effect. Some provisions of the ports' joint program to clean up airborne soot from truck traffic are contested in a federal court case between the American Trucking Association and the Port of Los Angeles.

In Long Beach, harbor officials have agreed to settle their similar lawsuit. Long Beach harbor's director Dick Steinke says he doesn't think the settlement has affected traffic between the ports.

"These trucks have to make it in both complexes," he points out. "Now if a shipper decides that it's better to do business in one port or another that’s their choice and there may be a little fluctuation here and there but southern California is a major gateway. If they’re not going to Long Beach they're going to L.A."

The port of Los Angeles saw a tiny increase in cargo traffic last month – about a third of a percent. Long Beach harbor's cargo rose nearly 9 percent over the previous December. Officials at both ports say they hope for two months of good news in a row.

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