Southland leaders promise billion-dollar Long Beach port project will bring thousands of jobs

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A groundbreaking event at the Port of Long Beach on Monday was a bit of a formality, as crews are already working to combine two older facilities into one huge terminal. Leaders expect the landmark billion-dollar construction project will boost the local economy.

The Middle Harbor Redevelopment plan is already underway as workers build a new wharf and wire electrical components. The effort will power cranes and allow ships to plug into a power grid instead of burning diesel for electricity.

At the Port of Long Beach, Southland leaders hailed a 40-year lease that sealed the deal, estimated to be worth over $4.5 billion. The harbor signed it several weeks ago with Orient Overseas Container Line, based in Hong Kong.

The plan comes at a time when U.S. exports to China have lagged. But the numbers this year are starting to firm up, says Port of Long Beach Executive Director Christopher Lytle.

“We’re not quite there yet in terms of the economic recovery," Lytle acknowledged. "But we know that throughout this year we expect to see those numbers start to trend upwards."

He predicts that by 2012's end they'll be well into "full recovery mode."

The project is being built over 300 acres to accommodate ships that are as long as three or four football fields.

Developers say the environmentally-friendly terminal will reduce air pollution and create about 14,000 permanent jobs in the Southland. They aim to finish in about a decade.

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