Thursday, April 15, 2010

Redwood City Port Development Snagged by Possible Air Emissions

Plans to replace two aging World War II-era wharves at the Port of Redwood City have run afoul of state environmental rules and left port officials looking for solutions.

An environmental review of the port plan to replace the more than 70-year old wood-pile and wood-decked wharves found that vessels calling at the new wharves, and the dockside equipment needed to work them, would generate higher levels of the air pollutant nitrogen oxide than permitted under state regulations. This is mainly because the old wharves, which comprise of a 520-foot long by 128-foot wide wood deck with three access ramps/trestles connecting the wharf to the shore, were configured during the 1940s and only one modern vessel at a time can now use them. The new wharves would allow for faster turnaround of vessels, thus allowing more calls and a concomitant increase in the amount of vessel-generated pollution.

The wharves, while dilapidated and obsolete, still accounted for nearly 800,000 tons, or 48 percent, of the port's total cargo handled last year – mostly in the form of imported cement, sand and gravel for a dockside CEMEX facility.

The $15 million replacement plan calls for the construction of two new concrete piers and new connector ramps to the shore. The replacement project, according to the port, could theoretically boost the throughput of the two wharves by 118 percent. A proposed second phase of the project, focusing on the material handling equipment at the facility, could boost the throughput by another 73 percent to nearly 3 million tons per year.

One possible mitigation measure being looked at is providing the new wharves with "ship-to-shore" hook-ups, allowing docked vessels to plug into the landside power grid and shut off their auxiliary engines used to provide internal hoteling power. Studies have shown that most of the air pollution generated by vessel calls is created by the idling of vessel auxiliary engines.

However, while "ship-to-shore" power systems eliminate the emissions from the idling auxiliary engines, the infrastructure costs for such systems can be prohibitive. The systems are also not compatible with all vessels and may require expensive vessel retrofitting.

In addition, according to the port environmental documents, the vessels may not be the most cost-effective means to achieve the required reduction in pollution required under state law. Air pollution from trucks and off-road terminal equipment, which generate far more nitrogen oxide than vessels at dock, have been regulated successfully at other ports and produced far greater cost effectiveness.

The port is currently accepting public comment on the project's environmental documents through the end of April.