A $500 million project to expand capacity at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is meeting opposition from local residents who say the extra rail and truck traffic will mean more pollution in an area already struggling with dirty air.
The Los Angeles City Council approved BNSF Railway’s Southern California International Gateway project in an 11-2 vote on May 8. The project will create an intermodal rail loading facility 4 miles outside of the port area. While cutting down on traffic near the port areas itself, residents in nearby communities claim the new facility will only generate more traffic for them, with predictions of 5,000 truck trips each day, according to a National Public Radio report.
While some residents see the port expansion as an opportunity for job growth, others living in the path of the proposed rail line project are bracing for increased pollution and a disruption to their community-centered way of life.
A local union organization, Beat the Canal, has emerged as a vocal supporter of the plan, claiming that without it, the area would lose business to the expanding Panama Canal. According to BNSF, the port industry in the area is tied to more than 1 million jobs. A report from the Trade, Health and Environment Impact Project puts the number of people directly employed by the ports at 1,498.
The current system of transporting goods to the ports by truck isn’t efficient enough to handle the predicted growth of the port systems. According to BNSF, the two ports handle more than 40 percent of the country’s container cargo.
“We are investing more than $500 million in private funds to build this state-of-the-art facility, which will help keep the San Pedro ports competitive,” BNSF CEO Matthew K. Rose said in a press release, “and we look forward to the jobs, air quality and traffic benefits the facility will bring to Southern California.”
Meanwhile, East Yards Communities, an environmental advocacy group, is claiming the project’s benefits don’t outweigh the costs, as truck traffic in some California communities is estimated to grow.
“Current plans are for containers to arrive at the railyard on a truck traveling from the Ports through the local communities,” East Yard Communities states on its website. “All of the containers that these yards would handle are heading to destinations more than 500 miles away from the ports, having local communities face the burden of this profiting industry.”
In 2009, the ports accounted for 42 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions in the Los Angeles area, according to the Impact Project report. The ports also contributed 7 percent of the nitrogen oxides emissions and 10 percent of particulate emissions.
The Impact Project report also indicates that the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach “are the largest single source of air pollution in Southern California,” with emissions contributing to asthma, lung cancer, premature death and cardiovascular disease. According to the California Air Resources Board, an estimated 3,700 premature deaths are related directly to emissions from the ports, the report said.
One community in the heart of the rail line project’s route is West Long Beach, a working-class neighborhood with a large minority population.
Veronica Guerrero, a resident of West Long Beach and wife of Westside Christian Church’s pastor, told NPR that she and her fellow community members are bracing for the rail line, feeling helpless all the while.
“I have heard other arguments like, ‘If you don’t like it here, why don’t you leave,’ It’s not that easy,” she told NPR.
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