Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Riverside Drops 2 1/2-Year Legal Battle Over SoCal Ports Expansion

After three courtroom defeats in just over two years and nearly $350,000 in legal expenses, the California desert city of Riverside has decided to drop lawsuits over the impacts on the city of expansion at the Southern California ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

Riverside officials filed suit against the cities and ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles in 2009, alleging that the approval of expansion projects at the two ports did not adequately determine the environmental and congestion impacts on Riverside.

Located inland about 60 miles northeast of the ports, the Riverside area is home to many warehouses that receive goods moving through the ports. In addition, the major rail lines heading from the ports east out of Southern California travel through the Riverside area, which Riverside officials said seriously impacts traffic and air quality in the inland area.

In the suits, Riverside demanded that the ports redo environmental documents key to ongoing terminal expansion projects at the two ports. In addition, the city sought payments from the ports to build grade separations isolating cargo rail traffic from the city's street traffic.

In March 2010, Orange County Superior Court Judge Ronald L. Bauer ruled that the port environmental documents properly considered the possible impacts to Riverside and, in turn, properly concluded that terminal expansion would have "an insignificant impact" on the city. An earlier lower court ruling on the Long Beach case had reached the same conclusion in favor of the port.

Riverside appealed after losing in the two lower courts, but the appeals court in the Los Angeles port case also rejected the city's arguments and ruled in favor of the port. An appeal on the Long Beach port case was still pending.

Concerns had been raised by the shipping industry that a Riverside victory could set a precedent where ports could be held financially liable for increased cargo traffic impacts to dozens of communities regardless of distance from the actual ports.

Riverside officials told the Press-Enterprise newspaper that the more than two-year legal battle cost the city between $350,000 and $450,000 in legal expenses.